Time. Is It On My Side?

Let’s hope the Rolling Stones were right as we have a lot of plans for this fall and they are going to run smack dab into the all of the summer projects we are trying to finish up.

Summer projects included getting anything done that required dry, firm ground for the tractor. Oh, and can I say how much we LOVE having a tractor?  Digging holes, trenching, moving logs, grabbing huge piles of branches, turning compost piles, moving dirt, lifting straw bales – all thanks to our trusty tractor Wiley (he’s a Kioti you know). We debated long and hard about whether or not we should get one, and man are we glad we decided to bite that bullet.

So to recap the summer to-do list, we moved the rest of the logs under cover, got in two mowings (it takes about 16 – 18 hours to mow our property), the roundabound is 98% complete, retaining wall is built, built a couple more large compost piles, thinned out the woodlot and secured this coming winters firewood supply, limbing up Douglas firs to prevent frost pockets and chipping the branches is getting under control, and we are in the middle of trenching for the well line.  Speaking of thinning the woodlot, we just heard back from the county and our forest management plan was approved so we should see a significant break on our property tax bill next year. Yay for us!

This weekend M reached the end of the swale and made the turn down hill towards the barn.

It's all down hill from here

It’s all down hill from here

Once he hits the top of the curtain drain (just beyond the Douglas fir behind him), he needs to stop trenching for a bit while I have a zillion yards of drain rock brought in.  Once the drain cloth, perf pipe and rock are installed in the curtain drain we will backfill on top with dirt and then re-level the site to ensure water moves away from the barn and the future house site.  M will then finish trenching from the curtain drain down to the barn and God willing – we will have running, pressurized water!  Woo Hoo!

Another project we are trying to finish before the rains set in is caulking the underground cistern.  It’s about a 20′ section of an old grain silo we put in the ground last winter and plumbed our barn roof runoff into it.  Within a month of installing it, a section of metal crumpled from the force of the water (an underground spring?) about halfway down. No one saw that coming, but yet it holds water up to that point.  From there up it seeps out (all underground and on a downhill slope), so we are sealing all of the seams and bolts and hoping that will keep more of the water in.

Now I know there is nothing lurking at the bottom, but there is something a little creepy about lowering myself into that cold, dark water…  It was about 90 degrees this past weekend, so I quickly got over my creepies and enjoyed the cool respite.


We’d like to dig in another swale but not sure we are going to have enough time to get everything else on our plate done, and as we had to learn the hard way with the first swale – you need to plant it out completely so the pasture grasses and weeds don’t take over.  And you also need to fence it to keep the deer from devouring all of your freshly planted trees and berries…

Next week we will be digging perc holes for our septic permit. We need to get those dug while the soils are dry and the water table is low.  We also want to get our septic design submitted and our perc holes inspected now to make sure we won’t have any conflicts when we are ready to start the micro-hydro project.  Our septic design guy has convinced us we can install the septic system ourselves (his wife installed theirs!) but thankfully we won’t need to start on the install until next summer.  It just means another long, wet winter with the composting bucket…[heavy sigh]

On the fall to-do list is to sow more cover crops in the zone 1 area to help build that compacted clay soil into something more hospitable for our eventual gardens.  The Chicken Food Forest is also going to be staked out and the perimeter fencing installed so I can get the trees, shrubs, vines, etc… I’ve been growing at home planted this fall. Not all of the plants will go in the chicken food forest – we need nitrogen fixers and other supporting plants for the nut trees, and some of the Black Locust and the Paulownia’s will be planted in various spots around the property for their quick shade and mulching properties.

Finalizing our design and filing our permit to build out a section of the barn for an eventual processing kitchen and a bathroom is next on the list. If we can pull that off we will spend the wet months framing the space out so we can install our solar battery bank in the space above and hang the solar panels on the roof of the barn. Hopefully by next spring we will have power in the barn. Imagine that – running water, electricity and dare I say it? – a flush toilet!

Posted in Barn, Construction, Farm Machines, Homesteading, Preparing the land, Sustainability, Water Management | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Taking Stock of the Nursery

I’ve been growing more trees, shrubs and vines for the farm here at home from seed (saved and purchased) and some from cuttings of plants I already have. From seed – true comfrey, sea buckthorn, Szechuan pepper, paulownia, osage orange, black locust, copper sedge. From cuttings – white concord grape, golden hops, golden raspberry, rosemary, bay, hardy fuschia, lemon geranium, hydrangeas. Plus I dig up the alder, hemlock and cedar seedlings I find in my home garden and hold them in a raised bed until I can plant them out at the farm.

True Comfrey grown from seed. Some are flowering so I'll be able to save my own seed this year.

True Comfrey grown from seed. Some are flowering so I’ll be able to save my own seed this year. I’ve been feeding the chickens armloads of this stuff all summer.

Purchased Weeping Mulberry and Fig with lots of Black Locust grown from saved seed. I have 48 seedlings out of 60 seeds sown earlier this past spring

Purchased Weeping Mulberry and Fig with lots of Black Locust grown from saved seed. I have 48 seedlings out of 60 seeds sown earlier this past spring

More Black Locust

More Black Locust

I also have some fig and mulberry trees I purchased from a local nursery using my customer appreciation punch card, so they were “practically free”.  I earned a bunch of points and then spent them during their big 40% off fall sale.  Trying to stretch that dollar every chance I get.

More purchased figs.

More purchased figs.


Szechuan Pepper with Osage Orange in the background – both grown from seed

More Osage Orange

osage orange

The plan is to plant my stock out this fall.  What I didn’t factor in was how ding dang big and fast everything would grow! The $64,000 question is how the hell am I going to get those trees transported without destroying them? They are 6 and 7 feet tall and seem to be growing by the hour.  It’s a 2.5 hour drive in a pickup truck.

Paulownia aka Empress Tree. These are fast growing, coppicable and wonderful mulch makers in addition to being a beautiful shade tree with lovely flowers.

Paulownia aka Empress Tree. These are fast growing, coppicable and wonderful mulch makers in addition to being a beautiful shade tree with lovely flowers. I grew these from seed last spring. They died to the ground over winter and came back with a vengeance! I thought I was going to have another year of die back but the trunks are pretty substantial.

These trees are only a little over a year old - look at the size of those leaves!! They will only get bigger as the tree matures.  See what I mean about being excellent mulch makers?

These trees are only a little over a year old – look at the size of those leaves!! They will only get bigger as the tree matures. See what I mean about being excellent mulch makers?

My yard and deck feel like a jungle but I know as soon as we get everything transported to the farm, it will only be a drop in the proverbial bucket.  This will be a whole lot easier when I have a greenhouse, nursery beds and easy-to-access water for getting plants established directly on site.  Just another layer of complication when you are split between two locations.

Posted in Gardening, Mulch, Permaculture | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Damn Backseat Driver…


Anyone remember the pushmi-pullyu from Dr. Dolittle?


Kind of how I felt this last weekend trenching for the well line.


M thought it would go a lot faster if I moved the tractor forward when he was finished digging a section with the backhoe, but I’d have about 20 – 30 seconds of work and then wait what felt like 10 -15 minutes (M says it was only 3 – 5 minutes) while he dug the next increment.  It did not feel like the most productive use of my time, so M just switched back and forth on his own.  It was definitely slower, but then I was able to chip piles of branches and fill the cargo trailer with more compost and mulch material.


Starting at the well. Only 597 more feet to go… You can see the barn in the background – that’s where he’s headed.


By the end of the weekend M trenched about 175 feet. He’s almost to the end of the swale and then he will start to head down the hill towards the barn.


He didn’t spend the whole weekend trenching as there were plenty of other tasks to be undertaken like greasing the backhoe, and then running around the countryside trying to find a zerk to replace the one that popped out in the process.  Oops.


M is getting pretty good with that backhoe. I’m hoping now he will use it to scoop cow manure out of the back of the truck so I don’t have to pitch fork it out anymore!

Posted in Farm Machines, Homesteading, Preparing the land, Water Management | 2 Comments

Keep Them Loggies Rolling


Another weekend and more fussing with giant logs. This chore is part of our resource accumulation for future projects. These logs are the raw materials for posts and beams in our future house. If we can keep them dry, remove the bark (a nutritious hiding place for agents of decay) and keep them covered we will have a useful stockpile of lumber and posts.


Now that we have a machine to move these big boys we want to get them under cover and debark them so they can dry rot free. It is far from a one person job even with the machine, chains need to get hooked up, and to operate the backhoe the hydraulics need to be swapped from the grapple. Most importantly someone needs to spot while 1500 lbs are being hoisted and moved. We would like to not damage our new barn or ourselves.


One of the biggest logs will need to be milled in place, I have a little chainsaw jig that will do the job, but it is petty tedious and time consuming.

We have four logs that we can’t put on the pile until this latest batch is peeled.  Unfortunately in their not-so-green condition it will take a bit longer.  At least we hauled them out of the field and placed them on stickers near the barn so we can easily maneuver them on top of the others later.  Now we can mow the field!


The tops will be used for fence posts and other small building projects.  Not sure where we are going to stash these in the meantime.  I suppose we could put them inside the barn since they are easier to maneuver than the big boys.


I can’t wait to start building a house, if only to get the shed back for more utilitarian uses.



Posted in Sustainability, Homesteading, Preparing the land, Tree Care, Barn, Forest Management | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Retaining Walls, Rubble, and the Roundabound

Free concrete rubble.

Free is not free.  You have to load it, unload it, get it stacked and placed. Thankfully my core has been strengthened recently or I would be writing this with 3-4 ibuprofen in my system. I am guessing we have loaded and unloaded 4-5 tons of rubble. Some of it has been used to build a retaining wall where our building site has a steep slope.


We also added a round about, which after watching Darth Vader give directions we constantly refer to as the “roundabound” in our best baritone voices and giggle a little.

Our truck has a 30 foot turning radius and with a trailer attached it is a real pain to get pointed the opposite direction on our driveway. I’m a better trailer-backer-upper than a year ago, but we needed a better solution. We measured it out and went to work with the tractor.

Then we tested it and fine tuned. The low spot gets a little soggy so we added lumber wrappers, (free) for weed control in lieu of geo-cloth and dumped two loads of rubble before ordering rock.

As usual what seemed like huge loads barely make a dent here. The scale of what we are doing always surprises us.

After a lot of back blading with the tractor and a few ferocious trips around the circle with the truck, tractor, and our little Land Cruiser things started spreading evenly and packed down. We’ll cap it with some 5/8 inch crushed rock when we are done messing about on it and when it rains a bit.


The trouble with collecting materials like this is than now I keep a weather eye for useful stuff. But we have to have someplace to put it, preferably neatly and close to where we intend to use it so we aren’t moving it two or three times. When I spotted a pile of bricks at our friends’ farm I had two plans. We could use the broken bits for fill, and the salvageable bricks seemed useful for a patio or fire pit. With the help of my daughter we filled the truck and trailer – with broken bricks toward the back to make unloading more orderly. Then I piled the usable bricks in a tarp and we had a little work station. At some point we’ll have clamp-on pallet forks and I can move the neatly stacked pile to the work site with our tractor.

Posted in Barn, Construction, Preparing the land, Sustainability | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Roll, Roll, Roll in ze Hay!

Hay and straw. Now we have a reasonable supply.

Around here this is the season for haying and everyone is getting rid of last year’s stock trying to free up space in their barns. We WANT last year’s hay and straw, we have a lot of projects that benefit from it and since we are in the soil building stage every we grab every bit of extra nutrient we can.

We decided to store it under cover and although our chicken area wasn’t designed with this in mind we have it filled with year old hay and straw. Once again we moved things twice instead of once. (This is my newest pet peeve.) After we had loaded 48 bales of hay we got word that our organic dairy friends down the way were unloading last year’s 500lb bales so we moved the hay down the line and added 8 big bales.

Not only are they awesome people, it is a joy to be able to talk about soil biology and pasture health with someone who is interested in it too (and doesn’t just roll their eyes). LeFemme even got to bottle feed a calf.

Unloading was easier using the tractor. Last year we did it by hand.

…but it was a tight fit.

After breaking a bale trying to grab it from the narrow end I got smart and used a chain to get it into position.

Double wide stack of hay closer and 8 big bales of barley straw farther away.

Now we have a handy pile to use for carbon in our compost and mulch for plant beds. Tidy and dry. My daughter suggested that she could sleep on the fluffy pile but it is a 6 foot drop if she were to roll off. Besides, this is organic hay and straw so there are the occasional thistles and sticker vines to make things interesting.


Posted in Barn, Compost, Mulch, Permaculture, Preparing the land, Sustainability | 2 Comments

Getting to Mow You…

“…getting to mow all about you”. While the diesel engine rattling along our grassy hills was hardly the Sound of Music it was nice to be able to knock down the grass and continue building our pasture without having to borrow or rent.

Since L had gone down a day before me to take delivery she also took it upon herself to break it in and begin mowing.


…and in 5 foot swaths it took 16 hours to do. Why mow at this great expense? Until we have animals on the pasture doing the job we want to maintain the pasture. Leaving 6 inches of grass in place ensures we don’t have much root shear and actually encourages grass and forb growth that evolved with massive herds munching them seasonally. It discourages plants like thistles and bear grass which really can’t manage getting hacked repeatedly. Cutting long grass puts down a decent amount of organic matter too, so it helps rebuild soil that has been depleted by years of haying.

It rained while we were mowing putting our fancy sun shade – rain shade to the test. It kept us surprisingly dry.

I also scythed several truck loads of canary grass to mulch our garden beds. We may be the only people in the world who see that tough invasive grass as a resource.

With all the mowing and scything, and pitching and spreading we were pretty tuckered out by the end. On the trip home we blearily discussed timing and order of our digging projects.

New tools mean more work.


Posted in Farm Machines, Mulch, Permaculture, Preparing the land, Sustainability | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments