Monday, August 20, 2018

Butterflies Are Free

 Lately, whenever I step out our Looney Bin door, I am reminded of the mediocre movie "Butterflies are Free". Goldie Hawn has never been a favorite actress of mine but those hippie dippie movies of the 70's still have a special place in my hemp lovin' heart. Mostly though it was Eileen Heckart, who played the mother of main character "Donnie", that I enjoyed most.

She and my mama were twin acerbic souls.

Back to the winged creatures in my yard. In the spring I announced to anyone who feigned interest, that all I wanted was color in my kitchen garden, lots and lots of color. A few herbs, tomatoes and beans were fine as well, but a vibrant hue was my primary goal. Even with our long dry spells here, I've gotten my wish. 

Along the narrow sidewalk leading to the Looney bin I've planted marigolds, zinnias, cosmos, a few perennials, rudbeckia and calendula. Now after several months the flowers have covered over much of the sidewalk! I mulched with lots of straw and/or rotten hay after the plants were about a foot high and this certainly helped keep the moisture in our soil.

This proliferation of blooms along the walkway and within the kitchen garden itself, has attracted more butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects than we have ever seen here.  Often, we'll sit outside and just watch the butterflies hover, twirl, land, take off, and pirouette from one flower to another. 

Some are so light and fast I have not yet been able to catch them with my camera but the monarchs (we have lots of milk weed plants) are very cooperative, allowing several closeups. 

At night the spiders come out to play, spinning elaborate nets. Huge Orb-weavers are very prevalent this year and although I don't appreciate running into their circular artwork while dashing out for a late evening chore, I do appreciate their industrious nature. 

If only I could be so productive of an evening! 

I'll be sad to see it all die down this fall but already I'm making plans for adding additional floral variety to my kitchen garden to attract more butterflies, good natured bugs and bees. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

And then, the Well Ran Dry Again

What a week.

After arriving home on Sunday after a family gathering, we were once again greeted with no water. We shut off the power to the pressure tank to see if it might refill on its own again, but no such luck. Our neighbor allowed us to fill two fifty gallon barrels with water from his well so we could at least water our livestock. A run to the local gas station secured us with enough drinking water wand wash water for our milk equipment. Our outhouse with the composting toilet came in handy and the 300 foot walk to it in the middle of the night made me grateful it was summer and not winter. We managed, as did our ten year old grandson who was spending the night.

Seriously, how many kids can say their grandparents still use an outhouse? Has to worth something when sharing stories in the grade school cafeteria.

Built for us by our oldest son for Christmas one year, it certainly comes in handy and the Sun Mar composting toilet really is nifty. No smell like a traditional hole in the ground outhouse.

With closer inspection of the well pit Monday morning though, Keith noticed a wet area in the dirt of the well house.

This made him think that maybe the problem was not with the well after all so we called the company that did the well revision for us three years ago. Fortunately they made it out Monday afternoon and after digging down a couple feet with their nifty mini-digger, the culprit was discovered.

The adapter on the underground pipe between the pressure pump and the well casing had completely broken. Seems when the pump was on, and working nicely, water was being pumped right into the ground surrounding the well house rather than into the pipes leading to the looney Bin.  Cause of the broken adapter? Probably the heavy clay soil that had settled around it when it was first installed. Oh well. Pun intended.

In the picture above the well house which houses the pressure tank, is on the right and the well casing which goes down to our 100 foot well, is on the left.

After a couple hours a new adapter was installed  and a layer of pea gravel placed under the adapter to keep the clay soil from pushing down on the pipe adapter and breaking it again. At least that was the plumbing companies theory.

Four days later and all is well (forgive me) in the water department, but all this trouble has us planning for an improved backup method for water on our farm. We're looking into both larger rain barrels as well as an underground cistern for collecting rain water off the barn roof.

Speaking of rain we finally got almost an inch last night. The flowers look better and the garden has been revived, for now. Not surprisingly, there were no puddles or muddy areas to navigate as the ground was so dry it all immediately soaked in. Thus we are still conserving water, using old dishwater to water fruit bushes and flowers, taking short showers and washing only the very dirtiest clothes on very short cycles.

No more rain predicted this weekend. Bummer.

Friday, August 10, 2018

And Then, The Well Ran Dry

It's always something Gilda.
I miss Gilda Radner don't you? Her character Lisa Loopner was my fave.

But I regress, back to The Poor Farm.

Rain is now a distant memory. Storms have been hit and miss here in Central Illinois. Farms just fifteen miles south of us get three inches one day while we get only moody skies. Each week Inaccuweather tells us of T-storms on the way. Liars. Often we can see rain pouring over fields nearby, and yet we are ignored.

Last week, late one afternoon, the water pressure in the Looney Bin suddenly dropped and sure enough, our well was dry. It happened once last summer but it was due to one of us leaving a hose running too long somewhere. It may have been me but fortunately the hippie-homesteader cam was not working, so no proof.

Last week, I had done a couple loads of laundry and watered the garden which was too much apparently for our shallow 100 foot well. Originally dug in 1868, before washing machines and other indoor plumbing luxuries like showers, it succumbed to our 21st century use.

We shut the well pump off and waited, worried, but with a few hours we had water again. Thus, we are on self-imposed water restrictions. No garden watering other than what I carry out to my potted flowers from the sink in the form of leftover dish water.

Laundry is done in two day cycles. On day one I wash a load, shut it off and on day two I run it through the rinse cycle.  Showers are short and sweet and I rinse my dishes very quickly. A little Dawn left on plate surfaces won't kill us.

I must continue canning in order to preserve what has tolerated the dry heat, tomatoes, beans, peppers and cabbage for kraut, which takes water as well, so I usually can on days I am not running the washing machine.

Last year our daughter gave us a rain barrel which unfortunately we have not yet set up to collect water from our new barn roof. I'm certainly regretting that now as would have been a great source of extra water for some of my garden. Oh well. Without making mistakes how does one ever learn?

Our priority is water for the livestock. Milk cow Liz above, waits patiently for her share.

Come On Rain !!!!!

Monday, July 30, 2018

The 1868 House Loses its Loo

Of all the rooms in the icky house, as I so lovingly refer to it, I hated the bathroom the most. The roof was in terrible shape up above it and it was obvious it was a cheap mid-century add on. Over the last several years rain has leaked inside this area and further rotted the walls and floors. I always worried that due to its decay, it would just simply fall off the rest of the house. Keith assured me it was more stable than that, but promised not to store anything in there.

He was right. It didn't simply fall away and in fact when we started tearing that area down this weekend, the old loo gave us quite the fight.

Keith worked hard to gut the inside gutted, tearing out several layers of old plaster board and insulation, plus the tub and rotten ceiling. 

My main job was dumping the tractor bucket when full, into the dumpster and hauling the bad wood via wheelbarrow to the wood pile. 

I do love burning useless things.

We did enjoy uncovering the original door and window frames which had been boarded over and covered with asphalt and then aluminum siding, telling us this was probably a mudroom or storage room before it became the indoor bathroom.

We will be recycling all the aluminum and copper from the house for cash, which is a good since we're thinking we'll need to rent another dumpster later this fall.  The current one is getting full. 

When the room was gutted and all the siding removed, Keith wrapped large chains around the remaining posts and window openings, in the hopes that one backwards tractor pull would send the room tumbling to the ground. 

The wall did come away but the roof portion, clung to life. So he tried knocking the roof down with the tractor bucket but the ceiling was better secured than we thought and only part of it succumbed.

So Keith pulled, sawed, yanked the rest of it apart by hand. Son Jason dropped by to visit and of course his dad put him to work. 

You'd think that poor kid would learn.

Keep in mind the floor beneath my husband was in terrible shape and I worried he'd fall through while finishing the demo on the bathroom roof, but he had no concerns since it was just a shallow space under him about 18 inches deep. Still, I worried and suggested a hard hat. A suggestion that was ignored.

You'd think this poor wife would learn. 

By the end of Sunday (we took a break to visit with relatives from out of state) the back porch turned bathroom, was a distant memory. The snakes nest of copper pipe, aluminum drains and PVC pipe all under the floor however, will remain burned in our memories. What a mess!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Extremely Functional, Yet Messy, Homesteaders Kitchen.

 The average cost of a kitchen remodel in 2018 in the US is running close to $29,000. Compare this to the total cost of our Looney Bin build at approximately $30,000 (including the new septic system) and the less than aesthetic kitchen below makes sense.

Never meant to be a show stopper, it has proven itself as the work horse it was meant to be. Recently I found myself in the midst of several tasks and thought I'd show you the process. Although I do tidy up the kitchen every evening and start clean every morning, during the day the space is usually chaos. All of the following pics were taken while standing on our staircase leading to the upstairs rooms.

Working from the left is our small refrigerator with semi dinky freezer on top. It needed defrosting, thus the open door and exposed towel to soak up the drips. To its right is our washing machine full of dirty clothes soon to be placed outside on the clothes line. Dirty clothes basket in bottom cubby to the right of that and bag of freezer items in Aldi's bag on floor.

Note the bag of flour on the counter, I was also making bread that day, and the beans in the sink drainer as well as freshly picked green beans in the sink itself are being washed.  Later that afternoon the beans were all pressure canned.

The yellow box in another bottom cubby, contains all the regular tools we need for immediate house repairs, a hammer, nails, screws, a drill etc...Directly under the sink is garbage for burning. My blue "backsplash" is just painted on but the paint is high quality enamel and very easy to wash clean. Moving around the kitchen...

You'll see the stove on the far right. I had moved the green beans to the kitchen table for cutting, so I could wash the breakfast dishes before canning the beans. On the stove I'm heating water to fill the bean jars which will be placed on our homemade concrete counter top after I do the dishes and put them away. We run the gas stove with a small propane tank located just outside the kitchen. The tank is refilled approximately every 6 months when Keith hauls it to the local Big R store.

Everything I need is within reach in this kitchen, all my baking supplies for example are in the middle cubby just to the left of the stove. Looking at this picture, I am surprised there is not a visible path worn in the concrete yet, as most mornings all I do is go back and forth between frig, sink and stove.

 I often use our oval shaped kitchen table as more counter space, right now you can see canning book resources on it, but even then I could easily use yet another 10 feet or more of counter. I make do some days by placing my large wooden cutting board on top my washing machine. It makes a great place for stacking up canning jars in wait to be filled. I can also stack pots and pans on top of our rocket mass stove, which also serves as a great cooling place for cookies, or hot bread since it is never used in the summer.

Moving to the far end of my food prep area...

you can see our rocket mass stove and more storage in the metal rack behind it. On the side of the gas stove I keep a barrel of honey and containers for composting materials which are emptied in our compost pile every day. Above the gas stove are the pots and pans I use everyday with my beloved cast iron pans on a small stand behind the honey barrel.

So there it is. An everyday homesteaders kitchen.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

A Review of "Prepper's Livestock Handbook" by Leigh Tate

I have known Leigh Tate-in the blogger sense-for almost a decade. She was writing about her homesteading work on 5 Acres & A Dream back when I was yakking about our old farm on my now defunct blog, The Midlife Farmwife.  She was gracious enough to follow me over to this, my new blog, three years ago. 

Most of the homesteading-prepper world knows of Leigh and her husband Dan's hard work on their place in the foothills of Southern Appalachia, but if you do not, be sure to check them out. 

Now, about that book...

The Prepper's Livestock Handbook is 221 pages of well researched, well lived information for homesteaders, preppers, and small farm owners at any stage of their venture. With ten extremely well organized chapters and a resource listing in the back of  181 (!) resources for additional online education/videos/or equipment purchase, this information loaded book packs a huge wallop for it's modest price of $15.95. It is the perfect jumping off spot for those toying with the idea of self-sufficiency or those with just a handful of chickens or rabbits, while also serving as a solid touchstone for homesteaders like myself already knee deep into small farm livestock care. 

Honestly, I have been caring for livestock for over 25 years and still, there was a vast amount of new- to-me-information in this book, most especially the sections on times past food preservation which details techniques like liming and water glassing eggs. This book has earned a front and forward place in my own resource library. 

Tate's book contains three content pages illustrating the depth of subject material covered. Within these the author not only covers all the basics such as feeding, sheltering, butchering, but reminds the reader of their own obligation to check local county rules and regulations in those regards. I especially appreciated the veterinary care portions which focus on problem prevention, not just treatment. 

Additionally, rather than utilizing information dump paragraphs, she regularly uses easy to read charts to share large amounts of statistics or animal characteristics. This allows the book to flow easily from one page to the next and makes it easier for the reader to find that information again when needed. 

The author's strength is this book however, is not limited to organization. Within each chapter she discusses pros and cons, such as when discussing livestock flooring options, and provides the information needed to make informed decisions appropriate for the readers' specific circumstances and budget. Anecdotally, she shares both the successes and failures she has personally experienced rather than acting as the inaccessible expert. She is a real homesteader/prepper like so many of us, and her honest insights are what will help future generations of this lifestyle, succeed. 

The Prepper's Livestock Handbook is not Tate's first venture into publication of the lessons gleaned while working their homestead, as she has been sharing tips and techniques for many years. Her work includes traditional print books as well as several e-books all of which can be found on her blog 5 Acres & A Dream. You can also order this book directly through Amazon or Barnes and Noble

Monday, July 16, 2018

Please Welcome The New Member of Our (automotive) Family

Handsome isn't he? Hardly looks a day over twenty let alone his actual age of twenty three. Born in 1995 of simple Ford parents, this Escort wagon originated from the West coast. Purchased by our son Colton  and his wife Tab back in his Navy/Seattle days, it has definitely seen some road time but still, has only 160,000 miles and runs like a charm.

How do charms "run" by the way? I have no idea.

When compared to my 2000 Dodge Neon with 233,000 miles and Keith's 2002 Ford F-150 with 236,000 miles, this wagon seems almost juvenile.

He was a recent gift to us by the same son and wife who gave us my Dodge Neon in 2014 when I returned to college. They were ready for an upgrade and knew the Neon would not likely get them much in trade in value, so it was gifted to us. Same deal now four years later with the Ford Escort Wagon.

I am thrilled to have these cars, as our son did an excellent job of maintaining his vehicles and both the cars still have a lot of life in them. In the past I would use the Neon for my running around and Keith used the truck if my car was unavailable. His truck is a real gas hog, so the Escort wagon will likely become his get-to-work-vehicle and/or my thrifting vehicle. It has lots of run in the back.

What we will spend in insuring, fueling and registering this fine new bucket of bolts (with a schmancy -fancy radio I might add) will be a fair amount less than what we spent in gas alone for the truck. The big red monster will now be reserved for those trips where it is absolutely needed such as running to Menards for building supplies, pulling the livestock trailer to the locker, hauling home piglets this fall, or taking fifty broilers to Arthur, Illinois for processing; a trip planned for September.

None of the vehicles will be housed in garages, since we don't have one, and they all have little flaws, but when combined, our fleet of automotives should get us through the next five years or so. We hope, we hope, we hope.