House Bound

I hurt my back lifting heavy fence posts the first weekend in December and was in pretty excruciating pain for a while. Unfortunately M had just left for Kansas for a week to attend his step-father’s funeral and to help his brother square things away when the pain started. I couldn’t sit down or lie down so there was no sleeping let alone getting into the truck and driving myself to the doctor.

I have a bad habit of grinning and bearing it but after five days of no sleep and constantly shuffling around the house 24 hours a day in a stupor I clenched my teeth, fought back the tears and drove myself to the doctor. I took the prescription meds although I really hate them, but at least they knocked me out enough to sleep an hour at a time before the pain would wake me again. M came home a few days later – thank goodness. He is an excellent caretaker when I am sick or injured and I was even more grateful to have him home than usual.

The timing of my injury and M’s Kansas trip made for a very low key Christmas with regard to “preparations” but surprisingly it turned out to be quite lovely – in fact we both have dubbed it our favorite Christmas together so far. It was also the first day my pain was manageable so I could relax and enjoy it. Thank goodness our larder was full of good things to eat and drink, and since Santa shops early there were still plenty of presents under our makeshift Christmas tree.

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Stocking stuffers are our favorites and tend to be food oriented. It’s a good thing since there wasn’t much done in the holiday baking department this year.

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With all of the time spent at home recovering but not being able to sit or lie down for very long, I had to find ways to keep myself busy.

I finished a sweater I’ve been picking up and putting down for quite a long time for M. I worked on it while standing at the dining table. The cats decided the sweater needed a little more texture and so did a little “weaving” in of their own every time I walked out of the room.

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He cleans up pretty well, doesn’t he?

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I knit a couple of hats using leftover yarn from other projects. I leaned against the kitchen counter to knit and read my patterns from my laptop perched on top of the toaster oven. My usual monochromatic tendencies seemed to have been affected by the pain meds…

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When M came back from Kansas we made bacon, sausage and braunschweiger

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with a very attentive audience

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With the Foodsaver Santa brought us I vacuum packed it all and decided to organize the freezer.

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I made new spice containers and organized the cabinets.

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I started some apple/ginger sauerkraut with my new fermentation kit. I have a large crock I usually do this in but really like having the ability to do small batches in mason jars.  This way I can experiment with flavors and not feel obligated to eat 4 gallons of something that turned out to not be my new favorite thing. The large jar contains orange peels, rosemary and vinegar – I’m steeping it for about a month to make my own citrus cleaner concentrate thanks to my new favorite book The Hands On Home written by Erica Strauss (thank you Santa!) who also has a great blog M and I both follow Northwest Edible Life. I HIGHLY recommend both even if you aren’t in the northwest. She is HI-larious and seriously makes home-keeping fun!

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Being the bartender in our house and a life-long passion for making “concoctions”, I gave M a gift bag for Christmas with all of the ingredients he needed to make his own tonic water – another great idea from nwedible.  It turned out super delicious and well worth doing if you are a Gin & Tonic fan, which we are thanks to a local organic distiller here on the island for turning us into gin fans. One sip at a pork butchery workshop and spirits tasting was all it took to convert us.

M replaced the section of rope the kitties had shredded to pieces on the scratch post he made them when they were kittens about 8 years ago. He also recovered their hideaway with fleece.  Siena is quite content to hang out in there and watch the birds eat from the feeder he got them for Christmas.

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Despite the painful start to our holiday season, it turned out pretty well in the end. We spent some relaxing time together, made and enjoyed delicious food and libations, as well as checked a bunch of things off of our home “to do” list.

Posted in Charcuterie, Cooking, Homesteading, Larder, Sustainability | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Partners

We took the weekend to scout locations for kiwi and to complete some fence details for our crew. After the logistics were complete we set to work chipping and preparing our timber chestnut plot for enclosure and mulching to slow down the canary grass. 

 

 
Up to now we let the grass grow tall as it seems to protect the little trees from sunburn and encouraged them to grow straight from the competition. Now under cardboard and wood chips it should break down and give nutrients to the soil. We added jingle bells to the trees in hopes that it will spook the deer until we return to finish the job and enclose the little area with a bit of fence. Trees require long term thinking.

I looked up while gathering deadfall limbs and prunings to see L chipping at a steady pace. After weeks of back pain she is doing better but I don’t trust her stoicism. I said “let me get that” twenty or more times. I’m over protective, my brother calls it “mama bear”.

Having a partner who wants the same goals is amazing. I feel lucky. Seeing her chipping away gave me a rush of love, appreciation, and a feeling that this farm could have easily been a one sided venture where one of us wanted it more than the other and the other was just going along with it all.

The list is slowly getting checked off. The line items that take multiple weekends to finish stare back at me in protest, or is it defiance? There’s that gate to be built and I need to figure out how to make a circle…  not because it is necessary but because it will please her.

Posted in Farming, Forest Management, Sustainability, Tree Care | 2 Comments

My Beautiful Organizatrix 

We made a few chalkboards. I’m not a fan of white boards since they stink, there’s a lot of plastic that goes in the trash, and they eventually become unerasable.

We hung them up, then I came home to this.



The scraps of molding I had laying around worked out well, and now meal planning seems quicker. We do a fair amount of planning nearly everything at the dinner table.

Food and love are deeply intertwined here. That list… Yeah it’s fuel… But it’s a lot of love too.

Posted in Larder, Sustainability | 5 Comments

Fencing 

Sometimes it is better to hire out some projects to get forward motion. Trading dollars for time is something I always have trouble with. I could do this!  L is always pointing out, while I am not doing this something else is getting done. As the saying goes, get it done cheap, fast, or well. Pick two.

L was laid up with sciatica from lifting fence posts while treating them with our natural wood preservative so I came down solo. We had a little snow which turned the two hour trip into four and I showed up just before dusk. Folks who live here seem to lose their minds when there are a few flakes on the ground.

When I got to the farm I dutifully consulted my list of tasks and finished coating the remaining posts. Next on the list was oil changes for the tractor and truck. I started with the truck since it was still warm. Using a headlamp and doing this when of you are knackered is a bad idea. I drained the transmission fluid by accident. When I realized my mistake I broke into a cold sweat. Luckily I was using a new drain pan and with a little creativity managed to refill the tranny.

Project done I hit the sack after 11.

The next morning our fence crew showed up bright and early and we staked the boundary together. I picked the best looking posts for high traffic areas and brought them out from the barn.

The post pattern took some creative spacing to work out the correct order. I started learning some Spanish along the way. Chico, grande, chico, grande… Short, tall, short, tall…


 

This line will be the most prominent. There is also a tractor sized gate on the back side of the fence out of sight.

Juan is the boss in the front center, Juan two is on the far left, Filemon is second from the left and Chimo is the new guy on the right.

In Mexico the tradition is to make tamales for Christmas. Lunch was warm and delicious.

All the while I kept L up to date with goings on and she kept things moving from afar.

I didn’t kiss Juan per my instructions, but I managed to bring home a big bag of tamales for L.

Day two the gravel was delivered for the area between the barn and the proposed home site recently backfilled after the septic installation. Most of the gravel had to be spread by hand as the dirt was too saturated from the deluge of rain we’ve been having and the tractor sank into it.


Once this dries it will be as hard as concrete and will shed water well. I left it about an inch proud anticipating compaction. This will be one of the highest traffic areas on the farm so it needs to be done right.

I like shoveling gravel better than sticky clay, it is a superior core workout. ;-)

Posted in Construction, Farming, Gardening, Homesteading, Preparing the land | Tagged | 2 Comments

Ditchery-Doo

After a full year of ditch wrangling we’ve finally closed up the last trench. This short run is a stub for our future home, it carries water, power, and telephone. 

It was chilly work. I had on thermals, jeans, a sweater, a vest, quilted overalls, and two pairs of socks. When I switched from conduit assembly to shoveling layers came off quickly. Those same layers make bathroom breaks a bit of a puzzle!

I backfilled in the waning light with an icy fog  creeping down the hill.  Between you and me, I compacted the last bit with a victory “ditch jig”.

  

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Anniversaries and Check Lists

Same old at the farm. 

Combat the surface water. Check. We spread 1000 lbs of straw and hay on the septic field and eroding trenches paying the price for our late finish. I’ve dug one full swale with the tractor and another mini trench by hand along a silt fence we installed. These have both cut the water by probably 3/4 the flow. Fixing the erosion will need to wait until spring. Thank goodness for our A-frame level which makes quick work finding the right path for all that water.

Solar shower, drained and taken down for the winter. After three showerless days I missed it, but it was icing over and I really had no desire to do a “Polar Bear” anyway.

Plants winterized. All the potted plants that didn’t get in the ground are surrounded by wood chips and topped with straw. I have high hopes for the thorny, stinky, but flavorful Szechuan pepper plants. They may turn out to be deer barriers and a trip to Beijing made me a true “ma la” addict.

Posts delivered. We’ve been waiting for the delivery of 50 more posts for a fencing project. Paying more for untreated posts is another sad commentary on modern life. Brown rice costs more than white rice, whole wheat costs more than white flour, untreated 4x4s cost more than toxic infused posts. This is more work for us to treat them with our organic friendly stuff but worth it when we pay extra to be an organic farm… hey wait a second, it costs more to farm organically? What a backward world we live in.

Seventh anniversary celebrated. Check! Premixed martinis in a mason jar make a portable libation. Add ice to the shaker and a couple of olives and we were transformed from muddy agrarian laborers to a married couple again. I set up our “easy-up” where we had tea in the first years and where, someday, we will build our tea house. The view is pretty nice up there.

 

Lighting 50 tea candles takes a surprising amount of time too.

  
But she liked it. I found some pretty copper wind chimes and hoped she’d like those too, if not they might scare the deer off for a while.

We reminisced a bit sitting under a blanket and sipping cocktails and both agreed that the day we bought the farm was a high point on our mutual lists. 

We’ve both changed a bit in the nine years we’ve known each other. I have to admit I’ve enjoyed watching her inner homesteader slowly take over. My lady wears muck boots instead of high heels, can bank a fire to last all night, and  works in heat wet and cold. She still likes things to be pretty too, and I wanted to give her a taste of that up at the “tea house”.

I’ve changed too, and I am constantly amused at the juxtapositions. Drinking a perfect martini wearing a dirty  Carhartt is hilarious and somehow appropriate.

  

Posted in Construction, Farming, Homesteading, Preparing the land | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

The Septic System – Completed

Our friend J came out last Monday to install the drain field baffles and then backfill everything. I assumed all went well and picked up some seed on my way down Tuesday thinking I could get it spread on all of the bare soil and topped with straw to help keep erosion at bay. J was locking the gate when I drove up.

“There’s been a problem” said J as I walked up. My heart sank. It turns out J’s trackhoe broke down right after he started to backfill. A mobile tractor guy had been out earlier that day and after 6 hours and trips to a parts store a couple of hours away… thought it was fixed. Thirty minutes after the repair guy left it broke down again. Poor J! He had taken Monday off from work to finish this part of the job up, had to leave work early Tuesday to meet the repair guy and now he had to take another day off of work to [hopefully] get the trackhoe fixed and finish the backfilling.

Wednesday morning J and the repair guy showed up – another trip to yet another part store a few hours away and about 6 hours later the trackhoe was operational. It was pretty late in the day by then and with dusk coming on between 400 – 430 pm, I didn’t think J was going to get much done. The dry weather he was counting on was disappearing that night with rain in the forecast.  Another project that was planned for completion during the summer was creeping into the wet, muddy days of November… It must be our thing.

I jumped in the trench with a shovel and the roll of CAUTION tape and nearly sunk in up to my knees! All of the water from the previous weekend rains had wreaked havoc on the open trenches. Although it was sunny and dry, water was still pouring down the hill. The septic line trenches and all around the tanks were filled with water. Unfortunately, the water coming from the west side of the curtain drain was perfectly lined up with the septic drain line and making matters worse.

The dirt was now heavy clay mud and it took so much more effort to shovel it in and lay the CAUTION tape. Hell, it took more effort to just take one step – the mud was so soupy in places it would suck your boot right off it you weren’t careful. I just kept telling myself I’m building character.

and hopefully some muscle.

and unfortunately some searing low back pain.

Good thing the tanks were filled with water, otherwise they may have floated away! Seriously – the septic design specifically instructs you to fill the tanks immediately upon setting them in the ground for this reason.

A channel had to be dug on the other side of the pump tank so some of the water could drain out before backfilling

We hand shoveled dirt on the septic line about 6″ deep, then laid the tape. It was awful. It was hard. But it got done and J was able to backfill about 80% before it got too dark. He is a wizard with that machine. He came back Sunday and finished the backfilling (thanks goodness the rain let up for the afternoon), loaded his trackhoe up  and headed off into the sunset. Turns out this was the last job for the trackhoe as S & J have closed their company and are selling off all of their heavy equipment. Another “sweet & sorrow” parting me thinks.

Drain field baffles installed. Inspector Magpie checking J’s work

All of the dirt (at least the stuff that didn’t get washed down the hill) back in its place.

In the meantime, I did get the chicken manure/straw mix spread on my Cistern Garden beds, mixed my compost tea, neem oil and fish emulsion concoction and sprayed the fruit and nut trees, plus finished my rock border around the recently planted “roundabound” garden. No seeding though but all in all, a pretty productive mid-week visit.

Bay tree in the center with rosemary on either side, purple sage here and there, Berseem clover for ground cover and black mondo grass around the edges. More plants will be added next spring.

M and I headed back down over the weekend and checked a few more things off of our to do list. M spread a truck load of gravel I had delivered while I was there mid-week. He rode his motorcycle down Friday night after work and did it in the dark with a headlamp and the tractor headlights. I was impressed!

night time gravel

We really need to dig in a swale to redirect that water coming out of the curtain drain – which is doing its job of keeping all of that water away from the barn and our future house site – but the ground is way too wet and muddy now so will have to wait until next summer. The next best thing we could think of to do was to put up a silt fence to try and redirect some of the water away from the bare soil.

We sprinkled about 8 bales of old hay on the bare soil but ran out of time before we could get it all covered. We will have to finish it up next trip down.

So the septic system is completed but we have nothing to hook up to it yet. We are planning on starting the farm prep area buildout next month – just as soon as we check off all of the existing items on the to do list.

Posted in Construction, Farm Machines, Preparing the land, Uncategorized, Water Management | 6 Comments