Build It and They Will Come

We have put in two small ponds of the eight planned. The first one is located at the top of the property. It was a small, seasonal pond M dug by hand summer before last. We used it to pump water into a 3000 gallon cistern which in turn was used to drip irrigate fruit trees planted on the swale berm during their first year. We referred to it as “Pondle”. When we had use of the excavator a few months ago, M decided to dig it deeper and a little wider. It didn’t take long before local flora and fauna started to settle in.

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The second pond is actually a 4 x 4 x 4 silt pond at the end of our curtain drain. It too has only been around a few months and already has algae growing in it and now salamanders and frogs are using it as their breeding grounds. I counted at least 12 salamanders in there last weekend.

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A few frogs frequent the joint as well. In the next year or so a larger pond (the largest one we have planned) will be dug into this area providing more habitat for the locals as well as our planned flock of Cayuga ducks and other waterfowl.

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We have about six large compost piles cooking in different locations around the property. The field mice have been taking up residence under the tarps to stay warm. When I pulled the tarps off to turn the piles last week, the mice came scampering out. This one seems to think he is “hiding” from me behind that clump of grass.

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He made a run for safety in the slate stacks, but unfortunately Magpie caught one of his buddies. You have to look closely to see the tail sticking out of her mouth. I felt bad, but it’s hard to discourage her from doing her job as a ratter. When we have the farm up and running, we don’t want the field mice taking up residence in any of the outbuildings or the house.

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Posted in Compost, Dog | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Not Set in Stone

Although we try to get down to the farm almost every weekend, there are times when I need M’s expertise on a few projects at home I am unable (or unwilling) to tackle like the kitchen sink constantly backing up (despite multiple past efforts to deal with it), or things that just can’t keep getting putting off – like changing the oil on the motorcycles and fixing the electrical short on the Land Cruiser so we can drive it after dark.

I think M is always secretly thrilled when we get to stay home – mainly because he can sleep in a little bit longer and he gets a reprieve from yet another commute. Well, let me rephrase that – he can stay in bed a little longer. Two roosters crowing from 4:00 am on just outside your bedroom window does not allow for much extra sleep. (Farm design note – place the coop as far from the bedroom window as possible.)  That reminds me, we’d only have to hear one rooster crowing if he had the time to get around to “harvesting” the last cockerel from our most recent hatching. I’m still “too chicken” to do it myself…

Jose' - the Spanish Dancing Chicken. He does a mean flamenco.

Jose’ – the Spanish Dancing Chicken. He does a mean flamenco when the ladies are around.

But the 240 mile round trip also adds up in fuel costs and we only have two days get things done around the farm, so we try to maximize every single trip down.  As previously posted, we pick up a truck bed full of dairy cow manure every chance we get from a farm on our way down.  The last couple of weekends we have been picking up loads of flagstone.  Adding these to our whirlwind working weekends has been hard.  By the time we make the pick-ups and spend the time unloading when we get there, it doesn’t leave much time for all of the other things we really need to get done like peeling the rest of the logs, limbing the rest of the trees in the field and then dragging them under cover to get peeled before they rot.

We also need to chip up the limbs to mix in with the cow manure for the compost piles. We still have cover crop seeding and tree transplanting to do and we are trying to buy a tractor before we break our backs.  The most pressing project that we haven’t been able to get started on is finishing the interior of the barn.  I suppose you can only do so much when you are running back and forth.

Lots of work yes, but there’s always a silver lining if you look close enough.  Like meeting the very nice family that wanted to get rid of about 1000 sq ft of flagstone set in a huge patio area in their yard.  M had just asked me to keep an eye out for stone on craigslist and my first search turned up this ad asking for offers on their flagstone.  I quickly responded having no idea what to offer as I had not had time to research how much stone we needed let alone how much it would cost. I threw some silly number out there and even offered to come pull the stone from their yard for a discount.  They said they had a few offers under consideration and would get back to me.

A week went by – I was so busy with everything else I almost forgot about it.  I assumed they must have sold it in the meantime, so went back to searching and their ad popped back up.  I had done a little research in the meantime (and realized how silly my first offer was!) so made another more reasonable offer.  A little more negotiating and the stone was mine.  We still got a great deal in comparison to what we’d have to pay retail, but the bonus was meeting the couple and their sweet little daughter.  We are always so thrilled to meet genuinely kind people and we’ve met so many since we embarked on our journey to farming.  I think stepping out of the hustle and bustle associated with “big city” living allows you to slow down and appreciate people and nature more.

About 4 trips with the pick up and the cargo trailer loaded to get it all to the farm

About 4 trips with the pick up and the cargo trailer loaded to get it all to the farm

So now we have stacks of stone that we plan to use for paths through the gardens.  By slightly sloping them, we will create a passive irrigation system on contour. The water will follow the stone footpaths between the beds and very slowly wind down the hill eventually spilling into a pond.

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Posted in Homesteading, Permaculture, Water Management | 11 Comments

Meet Magpie

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St. Patrick’s Day two years ago marks the day we picked Magpie up from her foster home. The rescue organization that found her living in a car named her Maggie.  We renamed her Magpie (although we still call her Maggie a lot of the time). She was about three months old and absolutely irresistible! I don’t know if I was the first person to inquire about her after seeing her picture on petfinder.com, but I was smitten at first glance.  However, within a few minutes I knew she would be a handful. She had that look in her eye…

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But she was so ding dang cute, who would even hesitate to scoop up that little bundle of fur and take her home?  I now recall the wording in her petfinder post – something along the lines of “will need a home that can provide creative ways to harness her exuberant personality”.  So she has personality – even better!

Oh, how those words mock me now.

Seriously people - how could you walk away from that face???

Seriously people – how could you walk away from that face???

Since this blog is a chronicle of our journey to the farm and Magpie is part of that journey, it was high time to write a post about her.

Magpie is an excellent alarm system.  Just ask our neighbors…  She hears things.  Lots of things.  Half of it I don’t hear, but she takes her job as our great protector very seriously. I just hope that at some point [soon] she will at least be able to distinguish between everyday sounds we make in the house (i.e. closing a cupboard door) and potential threats.

Magpie is learning to be a pretty good Livestock Guardian Dog.  She is very protective of our chicken flock and just about comes unglued if she hears them call out and she’s in the house.  Magpie is still struggling with the difference between “Wow! I just laid the biggest egg ever!” cackles and the “OMG!!!! I think there’s a coyote out there!” cackles.  It doesn’t help that one of the young roos is a bit of a Chicken Little himself.  Needless to say, we are not popular with the neighbors between two crowing roosters at 4:00 am and the Barky Barkstress.

Magpie is an excellent travel companion.  Just like a toddler, she falls asleep as soon as we hit the road.  Magpie knows the two plus hour trip very well.  She always wakes up at the stop light we turn off on that puts us “in the country” and away from freeways and main roads.  I think it might be the change in smells that triggers her – after that turn we are in farm country.  She can hardly contain her excitement for those last 15 minutes of the trip.  The second we stop the truck in front of the gate she is ready to go – if the windows are open there is no stopping her.  While we fiddle with opening the gate lock she runs through the tall grasses, drinks from the puddles (these are some of the wetlands on our property) and hunts for field mice and voles.  We can barely see her unless she leaps at some little critter. As soon as we get back in the truck and start up our road to “camp”, she doesn’t even hesitate to leave her prey behind.  The race is on.  She LOVES to race the truck up the hill, probably because she always wins.  She’s a Heinz 57 pup and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have any greyhound in her, but when she runs like that you start to wonder.

Magpie is a great huntress. This will be quite useful on the farm for predator control - both for livestock and the gardens.  She spends a large portion of each day catching field mice and voles, as well as chasing rabbits and deer.  The downside is that she REALLY likes to dig…

Wow - this smells good! I think I can get my whole head in there

I’m pretty sure there’s a critter in here somewhere

catching voles

catching voles

Magpie loves to play. She will make a game out of just about anything. If you don’t have a ball or a stick to toss, she will make her own even if it means chomping a branch off of a tree or shrub.  Too big?  No problem, she’ll just break it into to “fetchable” sized pieces for you.

WOW! Look at all of those sticks!

WOW! Look at all of those sticks!

wanna play ball?

wanna play ball?

Perhaps a nice game of fetch?

Perhaps a nice game of fetch?

They have special parks just for DOGS?????  Magpie's first dog park.

WHAT????  They have special parks just for DOGS????? Magpie is overcome with joy at this new discovery.

Magpie is super duper helpful.  No task can be done without her.

helping dig ponds

Helping M dig a pond

Helping me dig up potatoes

Helping me dig in the garden

Don't dump it there!!!

Just a little more to your left…

I think you need more dirt up here

I think you need more dirt up here

I'm an excellent driver

I’m an excellent driver

Magpie is a water dog.  Nary a puddle, pond or creek escapes her attention.

playing in ponds

How about a swim?

Mmmmmm.... freshly drilled water

Mmmmmm…. freshly drilled well water

Get your muck boots on - it's pretty muddy in here

Better get your muck boots on – it’s pretty muddy in here

After a hard day of work and play, it’s time to head home.

it's long road home for a tired little pup

it’s long road home for a tired little pup

A mid-day nap is so refreshing

A mid-day nap is so refreshing

playing is hard work

I play hard and I sleep hard

going...

Going…

going...

Going…

gone!

Gone!

Posted in Dog | 12 Comments

Getting Started

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Despite the 10 – 20 degrees below our normal temps around here and the recent snow, I’m itching to get things growing. With the running back and forth between the two properties, I can’t focus too much effort in the annual vegetable growing department these days, but I am trying to grow as many perennial shrubs, trees and vines from cuttings and seeds as I can at home to take out to the farm. We have a lot of space at the farm and it would be too costly to buy all of the plants needed to get things going.

Last year I grew rhubarb, oregano, sages, alpine strawberries and rosemary from cuttings off of plants here at the house and planted them out at the farm with the fruit and nut trees (which were purchased bare root). I also grew Osage Orange, Mosu Chiko Bamboo and Paulownia from purchased seed last summer and will be planting those out at the farm this spring along with the white Concord grapes, Hebe, Hardy Fuschia and Golden Hops I grew from from cuttings.

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Red Cedar, Hemlock, Douglas Fir and Alder self seed all over my yard and I’ve been digging the little starts up and growing them out in my unused vegetable raised beds until they are big enough to transplant safely out in the woodlot at the farm.

Self seeded Cedars under a Hardy Fuschia.  There are at least 15 seedlings in here.

Self seeded Cedars under a Hardy Fuschia. There are at least 15 seedlings in here waiting for me to dig up.

Bed of Cedar seedlings I dug up from under the Hardy Fuschia last year and transplanted to a nursery bed

Cedar seedlings I dug up from under the Hardy Fuschia last year and transplanted to a nursery bed. I’ll be digging these up shortly to plant out at the farm.

I also have a zillion Copper Sedge plants that self-seeded everywhere from a potted one up on deck. I keep digging them up and putting them in plastic pots.  Hopefully I’ll find a good use for them somewhere at the farm as I’ve also saved a lot of the seed.

I just started Black Locust and Saucer Magnolia from seeds I collected, as well as Sea Buckthorn, Blue Elderberry, Asparagus, Comfrey, more Osage Orange and Szechuan Pepper from purchased seed. I also have a wide variety of saved and purchased perennial herb and flower seeds I will start in another month.

The Saucer Magnolia is an anomaly. We have one here in the yard and I saved a couple of seed pods to experiment with. The rest of the plants were selected for particular reasons (nitrogen fixing, edible, mulch maker, medicinal, chicken forage, etc.).  The Magnolia is purely an ornamental, but I suppose one needs to feed the eyes as well.  I guess it could also be considered a mulch maker, so maybe it’s not such a poor choice from the permaculturists’ point of view.

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My daylight basement mudroom was converted into a propagation room several years ago for my vegetable seed starting. We have a deep freeze in there too and it keeps the room at around 55 – 60 degrees in the winter.

My propagation room (older pic)

Potted up tomato and pepper plants. An older pic - I’m not even going to think about growing tomatoes or peppers this year.

I also grow forage strips for my chickens to get them through the winter. It’s a mix of annual ryegrass, common vetch, winter peas, flax, cereal ryegrain, crimson clover and buckwheat. They take about two weeks to grow to this size so I keep about dozen or so trays in continuous production so they have access to fresh forage when pickins’ are slim in the yard or they are confined to the coop because we are down at the farm.

Chicken Strips growing in the propagation room

Chicken Strips growing in the propagation room

Just peel them out of the trays and toss to the chickens

Just peel them out of the trays and toss to the chickens

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This year is going to be tricky with all of the perennial trees and shrubs I’m trying to start as they will be taking up more room here shortly when I starting potting them up. Construction of the greenhouse at the farm is still a little ways off, so I’ll just have to make due the best I can between the two places until then.

M bought me a couple of soil blockers (a mini and a 2″) for Christmas one year. I use Eliot Coleman’s recipe for the soil mix. The mini blocker is great for the asparagus seed as they take up very little space allowing me to put all 200 of them on one my heating mats. After they germinate, I just pot them on to a 2″ block, and then I can plant the blocks out at the farm when things warm up a little. For the rest of the seed I start with the 2″ blocker and will pot the trees up into special tree pots I found on Peaceful Valley’s website.

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This standard plant tray holds 60 mini blocks and is about half the size of the one pictured below

two inch blocks (the mini's will fit into these come time for potting up)

This is a repurposed pizza dough tray which will hold 60 – 2″ blocks.  The mini blocks also fit into these come time for potting up

I have an 8′ x 4′ raised bed in the back yard that M enclosed in polycarbonate. I call it my greenhouse bed. I use it to harden plants off in early spring and [used to] use it for planting out my peppers and cukes or tomatoes when it was warm enough to put them in the ground.

Greenhouse Bed

Greenhouse Bed being used to harden off tomato plants from a previous year.  They were started in 2″ soil blocks and then potted up to 8″ pots.

The house where we live now is in a very shaded wooded area and we just don’t get very much sun – it has to be pretty high in the sky to peek over our trees and shine on my vegetable plants – but I get enough to ripen some varieties. The bulk of my tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers are grown in very large pots on my southern facing deck.  This is where I get the most sun at home so I really have to work it to squeeze every bit of sunshine I can. We will have to wait until I get out to the farm full time before I attempt to grow anymore peppers and tomatoes. Too fussy for now.

tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers

tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers

tomatoes

tomatoes

I have loads of unused annual vegetable seeds from the past couple of years and think I’ll experiment with them on the hugels we just built. We will see if the buried wood soaked up enough water to get the veg through the dry summer as irrigating is a chore in and of itself with hauling water. Although we just built the hugels last November/December, the trees and stumps sat out in the field over a year before that, so hoping there was a jumpstart on the biological activity.

I would like to get a bunch of berries started as well, but the budget is tight with the barn using up most of our reserves. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for a good deal. That reminds me I have several Mulberry and Fig trees I got for next to nothing at a fall plant sale in pots on the deck I need to take out to plant in the area we will be housing our laying flock. Time to get off of the computer and back to seeding!

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

Can you see the Forest for the Trees?

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After the first year of owning our property the taxes doubled. I contacted the Assessor’s office to see why and found out that when the larger parcel was split, our 24 acres became classified as residential. Mind you, there is no residence on this land [yet] and the property had previously been classified as agricultural.

I asked why the taxes doubled and was told because now that it is a smaller parcel it is a more marketable size and therefore there are more comparable parcels to measure it against, so our taxes were increased to match what similar “residential” parcels are rated at. Now that doesn’t seem fair, does it?

I asked about getting the Ag classification and the assessor was kind enough to advise me  that it would be easier and a better tax rate if we applied for the timber classification on the 13.5 acres of our parcel that is wooded. She said filing for the Ag classification was more complicated and you have to continually show a certain amount of gross income per acre.  Well, at least that was helpful.

At about the same time we attended a workshop on mushroom cultivation sponsored by our local land grant university extension program (WSU) and hosted by a small farm nearby.  In addition to learning how to cultivate mushrooms from the farmer, the WSU rep talked to us about using your woods for wildcrafting as another value-add to farming.  Wildcrafting in this instance was about using your woods to grow mushrooms, host wildcrafting workshops where participants would gather wild edibles and medicinal herbs, or make crafts from forest products and by-products like wreaths and baskets.

Interesting to note that the farmer (who had the “appearance” of being a little on the “hippie” side – not a criticism by any means – just providing a visual) was cultivating his mushrooms in plastic bags in highly managed and sanitized re-purposed shipping containers - not in the woods on logs.  In contrast, the WSU forestry guy (picture a 60-something university professor type) was promoting going out into the woods and communing with nature.  The juxtaposition was priceless and just goes to show you can’t (and shouldn’t) judge a book by it’s cover.

We chatted with the WSU guy at the break about our property and he offered to come out and do a walk-about with us to discuss forest management practices, wildcrafting/value-add ideas, etc….  He works in the Forestry department at WSU Extension and they help local landowners develop Forest Stewardship Plans, a much more intensive plan than the Forest Management Plan the assessors office requires for the tax classification change.

Well, as with most things, time slipped through our fingers with the barn building and earthworks projects this past fall/winter, so when I stumbled upon the Timber Tax Classification application the assessor sent me last summer I cringed.  You have to file the application along with your FMP by Dec 31 to qualify for the tax benefit for the following year – so this would not go into effect (assuming we filed on time and qualified) until 2015.  If we missed this deadline, we would be looking at waiting until 2016. Ding dang it – another opportunity lost… or was it?

I emailed Mr. WSU guy mid-November just in case he was available but it took us until mid-December before we could find a mutually agreeable time to meet up.  He came out and spent a good 3-4 hours walking the property and discussing the status of our current timber stand, ideas for improving it, as well as tips on thinning, harvesting and replanting it.  We also ran some of our ideas past him for value-add products and related ventures and he shared some additional ideas as well.  It was a great meeting and well worth it even if we weren’t able to get our application in on time to qualify for the tax break in 2015.  And I still pinch myself as it didn’t cost us a penny.  Thank you local land grant university!!

Now I have to take this opportunity to remind myself that even though this entire farm venture can be incredibly stressful, financially draining and time-consuming – we have met more of the nicest and most generous people since we started down this path than we have in our entire lives.  Not to say we haven’t known nice and generous people in our “other life” – but seriously – everyone we’ve met in connection with the farm has been over the top genuine, friendly and generous with their time, their tools and their knowledge.  Well, there is one exception – we’ve met one nasty fellow and unfortunately he will be one of our neighbors, but maybe he’ll mellow by the time we live there full time. Anyhow, Mr. WSU guy who was going to be on vacation until the end of the year said he’d work with us on getting our tax app and FMP filed on time and not to worry that he was on vacation.  CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?  Pinch me again.

We researched forest management plans and poured through the info Mr. WSU guy shared with us.  We emailed a couple of drafts back and forth with him (he was happy with what we had done) and filed it in person at the Assessor’s office on Dec 30 (right after we dug that second hugel bed). Whew!  Just in the nick of time.  Fingers crossed the inspector that will come out to our property in the next month or so will be able to make sense of what we filed – I can tell you it is not a standard FMP as we have no intention of ever clear-cutting our woods.

Red Alder

Red Alder

Our woods are mostly 20 – 30 year old Red Alder and Douglas Fir with some Bitter Cherry and a mix of other native trees. For the FMP, we divided it into 9 tracts (probably way more than a typical timber property would and we are only 13.5 acres!). The FMP requires you to list and describe the current timber species in each tract, provide somewhat detailed plans (dates, methods, etc), for harvesting, site preparation and replanting each tract.  In a nutshell, we will be thinning to improve the health of the timber stands, selectively harvesting over time, and replanting with trees that target the specialty hardwood market (handmade furniture, woodworkers, etc) as well as marketing non-timber products (i.e. mushrooms, chair bodgering workshops, wildcrafting workshops, and so on) and maintaining a healthy eco-system to support native plant species and wildlife.  We plan to take WSU’s Forest Stewardship Plan class this spring. The FSP goes into way more detail than the FMP and will help us to manage our woods in a much more sustainable way.

Douglas Fir

Douglas Fir

Red Alder

Red Alder

Somewhere in between hugel building, charcuterie and preparing the forest management plan we squeezed in a little Christmas.  Just a little Charlie Brown tree from the woods behind the house - no lights, no decorations. We never made it up into the attic to get everything down. We intended to make a popcorn and cranberry garland to then leave out for the birds but charcuterie day turned into charcuterie week and we ran out of time.  No Christmas cookies or candy making this year – just a rum cake for Christmas day dessert.  The grand plan to serve Duck L’Orange for dinner turned into Rooster L’Orange.  I waited too long to get a local duck, but luckily M had recently harvested a couple of our young roos.  Despite the busyness, we somehow managed to overstuff our stockings and ourselves (with pate and sausages from charcuterie week – yum!) and still ended up with quite a few presents under our tiny tree come Christmas morning.  Thank goodness for that free trial of Amazon Prime.

Posted in Forest Management, Homesteading, Sustainability | Tagged , , | 13 Comments

Parting [with heavy equipment] is such sweet sorrow

Magpie helping to clean mud off of the excavator.  Always so helpful...

Magpie helping to clean mud off of the excavator. Always so helpful…

We’ve been lucky this winter.  It has been relatively dry, which is great because we’ve had the use of an excavator and a skid steer for the past three months and we only had to cover the insurance and fuel - a pretty sweet deal.  I have to say I have had a love/hate relationship with having the heavy equipment on site.  It certainly makes moving large amounts of dirt, logs, slash and gravel easy, not to mention digging hugels and ponds possible. On the negative side it compacts the soil and tears the turf up something fierce.  All in all, I think getting a lot of the heavy duty work done at once makes it work out in the end. We will be working the soil later to reverse the compaction with our broadfork and possibly even a rototiller, plus sowing a lot of cover crop seed.  Although we are ever so grateful to have had the equipment at our disposal, I’m happy to see it go and letting the land take a much needed rest.

Hugelkulture

To finish up the last week we had the equipment we were able to dig in another hugelkulture bed and bury the rest of the slash from the trees taken out for the road.  The first hugel we dug in a few weeks ago was 100′ long and 10′ wide.  This one is 119′ x 10′.  M probably dug them about 4 ‘- 5′ deep and we mounded the slash pretty high before covering it up with the soil. It’s so nice not having that huge pile of roots, stumps, logs and limbs lying around. Knowing they are in the ground and being put to good use feels even better.

Hugel #1 on the right covered with straw. Hugel #2 to the left.

Hugel #1 on the right covered with straw. Hugel #2 to the left.

Timber

We are still working on the pile of logs and limbs from the barn/house site clearing, but we are making progress there too.  M was able to use the skid steer to move nine of the logs (cut down to 30′) under cover on the side of the barn.  It was quite impressive.  We still have another eight or nine logs to move but will have to use the Land Cruiser and winch to get the rest under cover since we won’t have the skid steer anymore.  We will do that after we get the bark peeled off the ones already moved so we can stack them.  The timbers will be used for building our house.

He carried the logs over one at a time and then brought the skid steer around, chained them up and drug them under cover

He carried the logs over one at a time using the grapple hook and then brought the skid steer around, chained the logs up and drug them under cover

I still can't figure out how he stacked them up like that

I still can’t figure out how he stacked them up like that

I chipped limbs while M moved the logs and even though I filled the back of the 8′ pickup bed full, it didn’t look like much when I shoveled it out into a pile by the barn to use for paths later.

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Water Management

We’ve been wanting to dig in a small, but deep pond (kind of an upside down triangle but with a flat bottom) across the road from the barn to hold the barn roof runoff.  The pond sits above an area we will be planting out to perennial gardens and market garden crops and the pond would make it easier to water.  This water would also be free of the heavy iron and manganese in our soils, so good for watering tender greens.  Our friends (and owners of the heavy equipment) S & J  hooked our gutters up to drain lines to facilitate this a couple of weeks ago and were going to dig the pond but J was afraid the walls would cave in.  He suggested we get an underground storage tank or cistern.  Given the price of those tanks (and running mighty low on cash since the barn was just built), we decided it was time to get creative.

While skimming craigslist for tanks and cisterns, M came across an old galvanized metal grain silo and thought we might be able to use it instead.  It was available for only $250 – a whole lot less money than a cistern.  What we didn’t use for the cistern we would use as raised planters or cut them in half and make pig arcs.  The only problem was it was located way up north and it would be a logisitical nightmare to get there, dissemble it from their barn, rent a trailer to haul it and drive way south to where our farm is.

We were kicking ourselves for not trying to buy this old grain silo that was lying on the property when we were buying it a couple of years ago.  Our property was part of a larger parcel – we purchased 24 acres and shortly thereafter another couple purchased the rest.  Unfortunately the grain silo was sitting on the other parcel and we forgot all about it – until now! Opportunity lost…

In the meantime when we were down at the farm last week, we thought we’d check to see what the new barn looked like from the neighboring property.  The couple who bought the other parcel is from the Chicago area.  They will be building a home and relocating here in the next couple of years.  Anyhow, from time to time we update them on what’s happening in the ‘hood and I thought it would be fun to send them a pic of their view of our new barn.  Imagine our surprise when we came over the hill and lo and behold – there it was – the old grain silo in all it’s rusted glory! We had assumed the gentleman we bought the property from had it hauled off when he sold the second parcel.  Opportunity found…

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We were so excited we could barely contain ourselves so took pics of it and quickly emailed the soon-to-be neighbors to see if they would be interested in selling it.  We were secretly hoping they would not have any plans for an old, busted and rusting grain silo and would be glad to have it hauled off their property for scrap value.  Lucky us, they said we could have it and didn’t want anything for it.  And to make the deal even sweeter – S & J just so happened to be coming out to pick up their equipment that weekend and said they’d help us get it over to our property with their excavator and flatbed trailer.  Talk about kismet.

But wait – there’s more! Since the weather was still sunny and dry (albeit freezing cold) S & J decided to spend the weekend with us digging a 17′ hole, placing the 20′ section of the silo in it and back-filling it.  Now we have an underground cistern that didn’t cost us a kazillion dollars.

Now that's deep - J has to stand up and look over into the whole to see what he's doing

Now that’s deep – J has to stand up and look over into the hole to see what he’s doing

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underground spring

underground spring

Guiding it into place. Notice the step down J dug to get the whole deeper.

Guiding it into place. Notice the bench J dug to get the hole even deeper.

easy does it

easy does it

Ta Da!

almost there

Backfilling

Backfilling.  The pipes coming from under the road are hooked up to the barn gutters. J later hooked them up to the cistern by cutting a hole in the side of the silo.

M worked late into the evening on the skid steer spreading the soil dug out - we wanted to bring the grade up a little in that area anyway so another win-win with the extra dirt.

good thing it has lights!

good thing it has lights!

S finished up the next morning spreading the salvaged topsoil on top of the clay subsoil(she’s a pro at it!) while J hooked the barn roof gutter drains up to the cistern.  Mission accomplished.

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We are toying around with ideas to spruce it up – either bricking around it, painting it, or just planting close to it to soften up, but not lose its rustic appeal.  We will also fashion some sort of mesh cover for it to keep debris out and maybe build a trellis over it.  We also need to add in a spout to handle overfill and will be digging very subtle pathways through the [future] garden below so that the water ever-so-slowly makes it way down hill and irrigates the plantings along the way. In the meantime it has some lovely plastic orange mesh fencing around it to make sure no one accidently falls in.

M calculated that the cistern should hold just under 3500 gallons of water.  With our usual rain fall and the huge barn roof surface, we will be filling that thing in no time. Sunday morning there was already a couple of feet of water in the cistern from the underground spring.  If it’s a year ’round spring, we will still have water in the cistern should the rain water collected from the barn run dry. Bonus!

The heavy equipment was put to good use these past three months – we dug a pond and an underground cistern, put in a 400′+ curtain drain and silt pond, dug and filled two 100′+ hugel beds, did some logging (of sorts), gravel hauling/ spreading/compacting, extended the culvert  in the road, and lots of compost turning and mixing in truckloads of cow manure.  We are lucky to have met S & J – not just because they have cool toys – but because they are the nicest two people you will ever meet.  So generous with their time and their toys.

2014 is starting out on a positive note and we are looking forward to another productive year in our journey to our farm.

Posted in Homesteading, Preparing the land, Sustainability, Water Management | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Ham and Bacon – Smoke ‘Em If Ya Got ‘Em

It is that time of year again where we find ourselves elbow deep in porky goodness.

This year we have half a Tamworth hog, and so far the chops and sausage have been delectable. As usual we asked for the offal and we always get interesting reactions to the request. Often we get everyone’s livers, hearts and kidneys. One pork liver goes a long, long way. After making tons of pate’ we still end up feeding some to the dog and the extra protein is good for the chickens this time of year. Next year I’ll try making liver sausages… but that’s a discussion for another time.

The big effort this year has been sausage, bacon, guanciale, and ham. Iterating on our notes in the Charcuterie book, we made breakfast sausage with maple syrup, bangers, and chorizo. We made guanciale, which is still in the fridge salting, and fresh bacon. From the River Cottage Meat Book we made ham brine with cider and spices.

Both ham and bacon benefit from smoking but the method is different. Bacon needs a warmer smoke, not hot, but enough to get the meat temp to around 150° Fahrenheit. I have an old school charcoal smoker so this requires some skill. I am still honing those skills. ;-) The first batch took about four hours, and the next involved binge watching Netflix in 30 minute intervals into the wee hours of the morning. I finally figured out that adding charcoal around the edges an slowly pushing the hot coals toward the center of the grill which was heaped with damp apple wood pruning maintained the heat and the smoke well.

I fried off samples in the morning. Man that stuff is good!

Ham
The brine smells so delicious and after soaking in it for two and a half weeks its cidery, spicy tang still made my mouth water. Like all pre-smoking recipes this one called for letting it dry until a tacky “pelicule’ developed. This lets the smoke stick.

So out of the brine they come for a quick rinse in cold water…

and then we wrapped them in cheese cloth and hung them outside overnight… and this is why we harvest pigs in the late fall. Less feed cost and nature’s help with refrigeration.

Ham likes to be cold smoked in my opinion. Sitting in a smoker for 24 hours lets the smoke penetrate deep into the muscle. Given my aforementioned drama with the bacon this called for some mechanical assistance. I like simple no-moving-parts, no-special-fuel sorts of solutions. I hate the idea of those single serve coffee machines that come in individual plastic espresso pod thingies. Waste and being beholden to the maker’s whim for making the pods forever, and heaven forbid you don’t like the coffee they offer. (I just realized I am ranting… back to the smoker stuff.)

So I picked up an A-maze-n smoker. It burns pellets or sawdust, and I can experiment with my alder and apple. Lit with a propane torch, it merrily smokes for hours. I’ll try this with cheese and liver sausage soon too.

… and LeFemme is going to get tired of me giggling about the house each time I check to see that it is still smoking.

Posted in Charcuterie, Cooking | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments