Back to the land...
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 . . .
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
The New Flock
We've had endless rain the last few days with more rain to come. Temperatures have gone from a balmy 60/50's to 30's day and night. Graywater is backed up, the garden work has stopped, we're scrounging for dry wood, and the goats have been stuck in their stalls. But we have started the first seedlings for our spring garden - bunching onions, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and lettuce - in our little indoor nursery.
We're down to 12 chickens and the ducks are gone. Going into the winter we've decided to cull all animals that are non-productive to reduce feed costs. We put up a free ad for the 3 ducks, the 2 big roosters, and our 2 older hens. The stipulation was that somebody had to take them all - a guy came out the very night we put the ad up and took them away. He's got a lot of land and a large pond, and he called us later to tell us the ducks never left the pond - they even sleep on the bank. He likes our barn and may hire me to build one for himself [simply walling-in his existing hay barn with board and batten].
The older hens, roosters and ducks were not only non-productive, they ate a disproportionate amount of the feed we put out twice a day - the shier starter hens were for the most part scared off, even with 3 separate feeding areas. The 2 mixed-breed duck hens laid great when in season, but we hadn't seen an egg from them for several months [regardless of how often the drake would go in to the duck nest box and call to them to get in and lay]. One of the Araucana pullets we got at the Co-op turned out to be a beautiful rooster - so we no longer needed the huge Cuckoo-Maran roosters. And our older hens that had come up with us from the beginning, Rosy and Claudia, were nearly out of eggs and on an extended moult. Since as vegetarians we don't eat the birds, the only solution was to give them away. They would at most sell for $5 a piece . . . but then we'd have to drag out the process selling them over time. We needed a clean break.
For us, from a purely economic standpoint, a hen's only major value is in her eggs. Sold for meat or production, she may bring in 5 bucks [10 at most if she's an exotic breed]. Since our eggs are worth 50 cents a piece, if she lays 200 eggs a year, that's $100 a year, paid out gradually, egg by egg. It's not her concern whether we personally consume or sell her eggs - just to produce them. Hens are most productive the first 2 years, as production typically decreases 20% a year. So we'll probably swap out birds every 2 years to a good home. Ideally one of our Araucana hens will go broody and we'll be able to raise our own chicks here for the next batch. Even if we ate an aging hen the value of her meat would still be only about $5. So losing a good layer to predation can be a loss of potential hundreds, not simply replacable with any old $5 bird.
Once the flock was thinned, we quickly went from 1 egg a day to 3 to 4 as the starter hens got more food. And we were able to reduce the total daily amount of feed from 6 lbs down to 4. This is 1/3 lb per bird per day - the recommended winter ration. Once winter's over and there's more at pasture we can go down to 1/4 lb per bird per day - a total of 3 lbs a day. Using fodder and sprouted lentils our feed cost for the birds is 20 cents/lb. Just 2 eggs a day generously covers their feed bill, as our pastured fodder-fed eggs sell for $6 a dozen.
Our fodder's made of mostly wheat, with some rye, oats, sunflower seeds and winter peas, all grown up into a forage grass. The chickens do best with it when the roots have developed a fine biscuit, and the grains are just pushing up new green tips. Anything beyond that and they tend to be a little wasteful [the ducks however would clean this up]. So while we increase the food volume 4 to 5 times from dry grain to full fodder for the goats, because the chickens eat it at an intermediate stage the volume is only doubled. This is where we get 20 cents per pound. We also add a tablespoon of powdered kelp per day to the chickens' feed. I used to break up their fodder biscuits before I put them out into their food bins, but found they do just as well tearing off fodder from the full biscuits to not bother with this anymore.
Here and there they get some table scraps, and if I'm working in the garden I'll inevitably find some fat Japanese beetle grubs to throw them.
We've always wanted to get the chickens on an all-natural diet, for the health of the birds and the quality of the eggs. We ran through many diets before we discovered fodder. However there's no question that protein content has a huge impact on egg production. This is something that gives us trouble through the winter [we have a light on a timer in the coop so they get 14 hours of light per day to keep them laying], as most of the bugs are gone and the pasture's down. We use the Pearson Square to calculate what ratio of feeds to get a specific level of protein - which for laying hens is considered to be 16% optimally. We put our fodder at 14.5% . . . though that's only the best approximation we can come up with after much research. If we use a minimal amount of a very high protein supplement it wouldn't take much to bring it up to 16%. But the problem with using say fish meal or blood meal is now you've lost control of the health of the diet and of the eggs. Meal worms are great but need indoor real estate and require time and care - and we only really need them a few months out of the year. We've used sprouted lentils so far as the birds' protein additive through the winter. We'd need to use a whole pound and a third according to the Square to hit 16%, but some research has shown chickens should only be given 15% maximum legumes out of their total diet - about half of what we need to hit 16% protein. So we've opted for doing that 15% of total feed per day as sprouted lentils [which the birds eat well], and the other 85% fodder. If we get a few less eggs it isn't the end of the world - as long as we get some. Though we have to buy lentils at the grocery store at $1/lb [much higher than normal feed costs], it expands so much through sprouting that it's not much more than the cost of the fodder itself. And it's a small part of the overall diet.
Our new starter flock is half Araucana and half Sexlink. We purchased them all as day-olds at the local co-op. We ran fodder and sprouted lentils with kelp through a manual meat grinder, then set it out in the sun to dry till it got crumbly. As a protein treat they occasionally got some scrambled eggs [which they loved]. They were handled as much as possible. The Araucanas are still a little skittish, but the Sexlinks are extremely friendly and excellent layers. They mob me when I go into the coop to feed them, trying to leap up into the bucket. The Sexlinks lay brown speckled eggs, and the 2 Araucanas so far laying have one a large blue oval egg, and the other a smaller pale pink.
We still have not lost a single bird to predation since we put up the 7 strand electric fence around their pasture. It has an 18" skirt of orange plastic mesh along the bottom to dissuade the chickens from ducking out under the bottom line. Ducks respect electric wire very well . . . but chickens not so much. However they're easily fooled with the plastic mesh.
We're going to purchase a batch of day-old Welsh Harlequin ducks in the spring. They're a production strain with the capacity to lay from 200-300 eggs a year. They also go broody and can raise their own. We love ducks - they're entertaining, great foragers, easy to herd, not as hard on high-intensive areas [like tearing mulch apart around perennials the way chickens do], lay huge wonderfully-flavored eggs, and make a great high-nitrogen fertilizer in their duck pool/stock tank which is drained, cleaned and filled once a week. And though ducks require 1/3 lb of feed per day all year . . . they do very well on fodder at all stages, and their pastured eggs sell for $10 a dozen.
BUYING RAW LAND
WINTER IN ATLANTA
SPRING IN TENNESSEE
STARTING A GARDEN
BUILDING THE COMPOST BIN
GRADING THE BARN
PLANTING FRUIT TREES
BUILDING A STONE FOUNDATION
THE CONCRETE STEM WALL
BUILDING A SMALL 12'x12' PAD
BUILDING A DRIVEWAY
INSTALLING THE SILL PLATES
THE MODIFIED POST AND BEAM FRAME
FRUIT IN THE GARDEN
THE BARN FRAME
AUGUST IN TENNESSEE
HANGING THE JOISTS
CLEARING THE LAND
PLANS FOR A CABIN
THE LAND IN WINTER
WINTER TREES II
THE STRAW BALE CABIN
THE STRAW BALE CABIN II
HOMESTEADING / THE CABIN
THE POST AND BEAM CABIN
RETURN TO TENNESSEE
DIGGING THE FOOTERS
THE PIER FOUNDATION
FINISHING THE PIER FOUNDATION
FRAMING THE FLOOR
DECKING THE FLOOR
THE POST AND BEAM FRAME
INSTALLING THE METAL ROOF
FRAMING THE WALLS
DOORS AND WINDOWS
TENNESSEE IN JULY - OUR LAST MONTH
TENNESSEE IN OCTOBER
THE BARN FLOOR
PERMACULTURE: ANOTHER ROUND OF FRUITING SHRUBS
THE BARN ROOF BEGINS
'DRIFTERS' PART I
NEW YEAR'S IN TENNESSEE
DRIFTERS: PART II
MY SISTER'S WEDDING
FERTILIZING WITH HUMANURE
THE ADDITION FLOOR
FINISHING THE ADDITION
-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.