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 . . .
Friday, February 15, 2013
So far 7 of the 9 garden beds are done. I've got enough scrap wood left for 1 more. Then I'll have to go to the mill and see what old stock he's got laying around that I can get cheap.
Great neighbors brought over an old utility trailer for us they don't have any use for. It looks to be in good shape, and rated for 2000 lbs. All it needs is a new tire. And of course a ball hitch for the Explorer. Once I've got it fixed up I can haul the wood from the mill myself.
It's been a very busy week. Tuesday was Rachel and I's anniversary. Yesterday we had people here all day. In the morning we had a fodder class for a fellow producer of raw goat milk. Through the afternoon RIVR Productions was here shooting hours of footage of the property and interviews with Rachel and I. They're putting together a preview for an Animal Planet show called "Living on the Edge", about people living off-grid. There are only 2 finalists for the pilot, but if the show is serialized they'll probably feature us. Then a family came to buy Josie, checked out the barn and fodder and we talked humanure. They also practice composting human waste, and may come back for a class or two.
This is Buffy, our new addition to the farm:
She's a toy rat terrier mutt a customer brought over since we've had so much vole trouble. He said she catches rodents daily over at their place. The girls decided to call her Buffy [a.k.a The Vole Slayer], but she hasn't gotten a vole yet. So far she's lazy as sin and will nap all day. But she's an absolute angel inside - the best mannered dog I've ever seen. Buffy's a little chubby and could lose a pound or two. We'll soon be switching her off kibble to a raw meat diet and we'll see if that picks up her energy a little. Rachel's been dropping little pieces of kibble down the vole holes and it does get her interested in the holes. She's a little nervous about digging though - worried she'll get in trouble. So far she hasn't seen or caught anything.
We know the voles are here. After eradicating them from the shed area we found babies wiping out the turnip crop. We managed to kill 3 while harvesting what was left of the turnips [not much]. Then they went after the mustards, and they had to be dug up and fed to the goats. The yard is now Swiss cheese - there are vole holes everywhere. They have no interest in bait, we can't find runs, so trapping is useless. If Buffy doesn't become the vole hunter we're hoping, we'll try some more rat terriers, raising them as pups, and exposing them to the rooster early so they learn a lifelong lesson to fear and dread chickens.
Harley's friend's dad brought over a cord of split oak he couldn't use as he has no stove. It'll need a month or two to season, but it's a nice gift:
Our seedlings are taking off under the shop lights in the loft nursery. It's our first year starting onions from seed, and the Brussels and Lettuce are doing really well - nearly big enough to transplant. Our Alpine strawberries we're trying from seed are also sprouting up:
We're about to plant our peas [trying Mr Big Pea this year]. It's so much easier putting in the poles and rope for vines with the new bed framework to tie into:
Saturday, February 2, 2013
Snow yesterday. And snow again all day today:
We've had to struggle through the weather lately. We've got the ground floor of the barn reasonably cleaned out, and have started getting the goat house ready for kidding. I've put a run door back in, and made a door for the goat house addition out of a piece of utility panel. Once we get hinges, the old coop door will go back on, and then we just need to clean out the floor of the old coop and put in fresh bedding. We may run a line of extension cords from the barn up there so we have a plug-in light for the late-night bottle feedings.
Rachel's ordered all her kidding supplies. She's printed out an exhaustive list of delivery complications and how to cope with them - so that in the panic of the moment we know how to handle it if something goes wrong. Last year Mabel and Onyx did fine, and Rachel only assisted in pulling one of Josie's legs out when she noticed she was coming nose-first.
I've been working on putting up more orange mesh along the bottom of the fence line, so once we get another pasture gate in [with chicken door] we can expand the hens' range. We'll have over an acre for 12 birds . . . plenty of room to increase the flock.
The floor of the barn coop is cleaned out, and bedded deeply with sawdust [the old bedding went into the swales behind the upper blueberries]. The hens are laying very well with the increase in sprouted lentils. They're now sprouted up green into shoots - something that happened accidentally as we were overproducing to get caught up, and the fodder and lentils took off. The birds love them green. The lentils used to be the last thing they ate, now they're the first.
We're getting an average of over 7 eggs a day in the middle of winter from 11 pullets. We're pretty happy with that. They laid 10 the other day. 8 today. And finally all the Araucana hens are in production, as we got 5 eggs from 5 hens today. One of them still has a small blue starter egg. The few voles they had can't fully account for the increase, since they're long gone [and the hens may not have eaten the last few, as we discovered a rat tunneling in and out of the coop]. Our feed cost is now under 60 cents a day for the birds. A daily average of 7 eggs is worth $3.50. The birds are paying for their own feed, and easily covering one of our bills. There's also the benefit of their copious fertilizer, bug-eating, and their entertaining presence on the farm in general. Raised as day-olds they're very friendly, and mob me when I go out to feed, some flying up into the bucket I'm carrying to get the first bits. So far we have not lost a single bird since the electric fencing went in, 6 months ago.
The Araucana rooster has turned out great. He's a good guardian, but not aggressive. I found him in a nest box the other day making a nest, picking up straw with his beak, and softly calling to one of the Araucana pullets - maybe the one that hadn't laid yet. She climbed in and settled in. He then stood halfway out the box, blocking her from leaving, and kept a long soft cooing to her to encourage her to lay. She stayed in so long after he'd left I thought she went broody. I put fresh hay in the duck nest box on the floor since there's now so much traffic with our 3 nest boxes, and he was the first one in calling the hens to check it out. A few did . . . but weren't all that interested.
We've been aggressive with the rodent problem, and so far it seems our tactics have worked. Clearing out all brush around the garden got the voles mostly out of there - we'd found and killed 3 in the beds and haven't seen them since. The voles migrated over to the debris around the shed, and I began seeing them. I noticed one scurrying along one wall inside the shed, so we put out 11 rat traps that night [mouse traps are not nearly big enough for our voles, which are in size about halfway between a mouse and a rat]. We got one along that wall while setting up the traps. We got three more in the same spot that night. That was 4 days ago, and we haven't seen or heard them since. Voles definitely stick to their runs. The traps were baited with chunks of apple sewn to the bait pedal.
We'd noticed something getting into our pumpkin stash in the barn [about 150 pumpkins for the goats], and assumed it was mice. But we noticed some large holes in the ground beneath them, especially when cleaning out the last of the pumpkin rot. A few days ago something dug out a tunnel from outside the barn, underneath the foundation, and into the chicken coop. After some research, the most likely critter was a Norway rat. It was going in to the coop at night and cleaning up the last of the chickens' fodder. It hadn't noticed the eggs yet, or tried going after the birds - though I'm sure it startled them.
We stopped feeding the birds in the coop, cleaned it out, filled the tunnel under the foundation with gravel, packed and covered it. I put out two trays of D-CON bait, both in the barn and out of reach of the chickens - one by his pumpkin burrow, and one by his tunnel from inside the barn into the coop. I also put out 2 rat traps with peanut butter that were not set. The idea is to get him [them] comfortable with eating from the trap before you spring it.
The first night all the bait was gone. We either had a bigger rat problem than we thought, as we'd never actually seen them, or the rat[s] was hoarding it in his burrow. The next night only one tray of bait disappeared. The next night half of one tray. It never touched the peanut butter - maybe wary of traps. Last night no bait was missing. The mostly likely scenario is it's dead. We won't really notice a smell till it warms up.
Fodder is now caught up and overflowing. I think we'll stick to bucket-sprouting the chickens' feed to conserve shelf space for the goats. I tried a little of the birds' fodder on the way out to feed them - a lot like any sprouts at first, but then that wheatgrass flavor hit, and they're as sweet as candy. No wonder the birds love them.
We're moving to using only fresh-ground flour for our breads. The problem is we can't yet afford a grain mill. So Rachel's experimenting with making sprouted bread. The first two loaves were good, a little crunchy, but the third was phenomenal and she's got it down now. It is way better in flavor and texture than any bread I've ever had before. It does take a little sweetener though. The kids call it fodder bread . . . but it's actually not, as the fodder's made from seed wheat, and the wheat we use for sprouted bread is hard red winter. Rachel's tried mashing sprouts in both the food processor and the manual meat grinder, and we've found it turns out best with 2 passes through the meat grinder. So even without a grain mill, we've still got 100% fresh whole wheat bread. And no electricity required.
The goats have been stuck in their stalls over the snowstorm, getting very big, now within a few weeks of kidding. Unfortunately we're running out of hay. Nobody wants to deliver just 2 or 3 round bales all the way out to Sunbright. Square bales which we can haul ourselves are far more expensive - at least twice the price. There's an old trailer I may be able to fix up so we can haul our own hay. That's going to have to move up the priority list.
Here are the big girls, the Lamanchas, veteran milkers, left to right Marley, Cayenne and Sprite:
The Samanchas, soon to be first fresheners, left to right Shadow [the top doe], Lily and Pinkie. Josie's the mini Alpine/Nubian cross, Mabel's doeling, who will shortly go up for sale. Now that the doelings have gotten over 90 lbs, their horns trump the size and age of the Lamanchas [who weigh between 130 and 140], and they're the top goats. They're the first ones through the gate, every time:
We watched a video on some guy's big raw milk operation, with 15 cows . . . not all that great, the video . . . but it got me thinking - wouldn't it be nice to have a dairy parlor. I'd have to tear the shed down over the well, cut down that leaning oak, and build it there. It'd be a sort of all-in-one, full-service parlor with a milking area and stanchions, a dairy processing and storage area, and a room for growing all their fodder. We could handle 16 does in milk this way . . . but would probably have to acquire some adjacent property to expand the pasture. And a milk machine. Very, very, long-term idea . . .
We're constantly updating the HOLDOUT FARM website, and adding new pages. We'll do a marketing blitz once the does are about to kid.
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.