Saturday, January 12, 2019

New Year, New Goals, New Stairs

As I write, we are in the midst of snowmageddan  2019. A one thousand mile swatch of snowy, icy weather has graced the Midwest. St Louis was hit the hardest last night with up to 14 inches of snow in some areas, while we here in central Illinois are dealing with 4-7 inches. Winds are moderate but drifting is rearing its ugly head and travel is not advised. This makes for a great excuse to stay inside and do some serious farm planning. 

We were gifted with several aerial farm photos over Christmas and we're thrilled to use them to complete one year, three year and five year plans for The Poor Farm. I was even more thrilled to see that from up on high, our piles of "inventory" were not so noticeable, nor did they consume as much land area as I thought they did.

It's good to put things in perspective. 

We'll be working with this main shot, which shows are entire seven acres, all  bordered by conventional (chemically treated) fields on three sides and one county road on the north side. Our grain bin house is hidden behind the evergreen trees to the far right of the driveway. The pig area is even father right. Our small pond is to the left of the drive, with yellowish tree cover, near the road. Family cemetery area is lower left.


Below is a flipped view (with north on the bottom) which shows our Grain Bin House and it's relationship to the other buildings. I used the Microsoft paint program already on my pc, for the lettering. Old dog, new trick. Woof.


On yet a third picture, which we had made into an 11 by 17 poster size, (thank you Vistaprint) we slid it inside a large plastic sleeve and used dry erase marker to plot out existing pastures, cow paths etc...It worked great, just draw and erase. Pink lines designate current pastures, black is our cattle path, black square in upper right is family cemetery area, and pond is in lower right. Once satisfied with our plan I'll take a permanent photo to use for future reference. 



Primary goals for 2019 include (but are never limited to)

-Complete the teardown of the 1868 house
-Complete new barn build (two enclosed storage lofts, one open hay loft and Keith's shop)
-Build picket fence to enclose kitchen garden
-Start hügelkultur area behind barn with wood from two large oaks we felled last year.
-Install small propane heater for studio so I can use in winter

I'll share three and five year goals and financial budgets later this month. 

Now, about that 50 foot by 60 foot barn build. Before this recent storm Keith had many mild days to work inside the barn. Stairs are nearly complete up to the loft area which will house the last of the stuff we still have in storage in the surviving half of the 1868 house. An end is in sight! Our shepherd/husky mix Ashland and Keith demonstrate correct use.





It doesn't look like it in the picture below, but floor to ceiling height in the upper loft is seven foot. This  area will be walled in with a door and windows to keep out birds, rodents and the occasional free ranging horse. 




Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Piggies Moving Up in the World

Christmas was wonderful with lots of great food, (many thanks to daughter-in-law, Chef Tab, who made us a scrumptious breakfast) special time with family, and gifts that were extremely thoughtful and generous. 

But as happens every year, December 26th comes along and farm work beckons. Pigs needed bigger housing. 

Our current crop of feeder pigs are now four months old and growing unlike weeds. Weeds tend to grow UP while these little porkers are growing WIDE, as intended.

They are a group of five Red Wattle crosses we purchased outside of Springfield, Illinois back in September. The cost was fabulous at just $20 each since full Red Wattle feeders can easily run $100 per head. This group was a bit underweight and we were prepared to lose the smallest one, but still we were willing to take the chance since the price was good. 


We got them home, put them on organic ground grain and raw milk from our lovely cow Liz. Within two weeks these babies were thriving. Even the smallest one rapidly gained ground. He is in fact now, our second largest, the gray hog in the picture above. We attribute this positive growth and robust health to a few things: lots of room outside in the fresh air to run and dig, organic feed (free of GMO grains, antibiotics or hormones), deep bedding for warmth and comfort, and raw milk for protein. 




Today we moved our larger Hog Condo into the pigs lot, as they are outgrowing their original petite hutch seen above to the left. Keith used our Kubota tractor and heavy chains for the task. This larger home has been used as a farrowing hut for our full grown sows back in the days when we had our "farrow to finish" operation on our old farm. One sow and her litter would get this larger condo, thus the "Maternity Ward" labeling. Now we just buy feeder pigs at 6-8 weeks, in both the spring and the fall, and raise them for our own meat and meat for a few family members. 





You can see that this larger hutch has had some serious use over the years. Just after I took this picture Keith boarded up the holes on the side and added a large piece of plywood along the bottom to keep winter drafts out. The hogs never seem to mind that the wood is a mixed variety and recycled. 

 In a few days, after this group gets used to the upgraded digs, we'll fence off the area around their old place, clean up that area, pull out posts and store everything until the next group comes in this spring. We like to move each group of pigs to different areas of the farm so as not to spread any possible parasites from one group  to another. They also do an excellent job of tilling and fertilizing the earth of any new site, and getting it ready for whatever crop we might put in that area after they move on.  

Soon we'll contact the locker and make a processing date for these five, probably end of March. This is a good thing, because we are almost out of pork chops and bacon. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

A Couple of Day Trippers


 She was a day tripper, a Sunday driver yea
Took me so long to find out, and I found out

                                                                                        -The Beatles  1965



Just like Paul, Ringo, John and George, Keith and I are big into Day Tripping. Our lifestyle no longer allows us to go away for weeks at a time so we settle for the shorter, less expensive day trips. This past weekend we stayed OVERNIGHT at Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois. It was for us, a big hairy deal. It was also our pre-planned Christmas present to each other. 

We did chores early Sunday morning and made it up north by noon. Our son Jason did the evening chores for us and we did them late Monday morning when we got back. The cows milking schedule was off a bit but she's very accommodating. We don't call her "Laid Back Liz" for nothing.

The lodge itself has been around since the early 1900s and has a beautiful open lounge area with huge fireplaces and a rustic log interior. Decorated nicely for Christmas it boosted my soul to see all the lights, ribbons, packages etc...I was hoping for snow on our trip, this area is gorgeous with the white stuff, but no such luck 





There was however, a rare sighting of the sun when we arrived and the weather was super mild, in the high 40's. Perfect for a two mile hike in the hundreds of wooded acres up there, just as the sun was setting. Paths were a tad muddy but nothing as deep and sloppy as the cow path at home. 





We were both amazed at how much plant life was still thriving in late December and how colorful the area was. Of course we've been living in fog and deep clouds the last few weeks so any sliver of light was basically blinding to us. Mushrooms were crazy abundant on the fallen tree limbs and shaped like blossoms. 




During the hike I convinced Keith to pose for our very first selfie together. It took me a bit to make him understand he'd have to get close to me for it to work. 



It took a bit but we were finally successful in capturing a decent enough shot. I wanted to try for a few more reminding Keith how one never knows when one might keel over dead, (my years a hospice nurse totally warped me) and how the gks would appreciate having more pics of us, but he lost interest and wandered off. 



And kept wandering off.  



He came back after I put the smart phone away.




Monday, December 10, 2018

This Blogger Should Be Flogged





I should be publicly flogged and have my blogging license revoked. I'm so all over the road lately. I blog every couple of days and then not for over two weeks. I read other blogs but forget to comment. I comment in public when no one has asked my opinion. I'm full of excuses for this errant behavior, but I have not a single good reason. 

The sun wasn't even in my eyes. Too cloudy and foggy for that.
At least when the fog freezes, as it did this morning,  we are graced with some botanical art. 



Our early winter continues, even though it's a good two weeks before the calendar officially deems it so. Temps at night are usually in the teens. A few days have been warm enough to turn the frozen ground into soppy wet divots which then freeze and threaten to snap this homesteaders delicate ankles whilst doing evening chores. 

The good news is, my ankles are far from delicate, and the evening fires we build in the rocket mass heater feel that much better when the air outside is cold and damp. Still, I hate that it gets dark so early when I haven't yet cleaned up the garden debris, let alone put a few garden chairs away.  We take the high road on this and tell folks we purposely leave the garden littered with last summers' vines, seed heads, rogue weeds  and collapsed kelp, all in the name of feeding birds and providing shelter for wee critters. But the truth is, we haven't made it a priority.



I still have a bag of fifty  tulip bulbs hanging in my mudroom waiting to be planted. Perhaps when it thaws in February I'll get those in the ground. Just in time for a 2020 bloom. 

Anyone else out there way behind in their Fall work while busy dealing with the Early Winter of Our Discontent? 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Yes. I've Already Decorated for Christmas.

I see you judging me. Stop it.

We have a tradition here in the US; no Christmas decorating until AFTER the turkey is gobbled. Unless of course you are a retail store who is now putting some Christmas items out in August. Heathens. But generally, the average American puts off  pulling out the totes and bags and trees until the Pilgrims and Indians are stashed away.

Or as one four-year-old member of our family called them years ago, the Pig-rims and the Idiots. She may have been talking about the table top figurines or her immediate family, we'll never know.

This year though I broke the rules, mixed up the routine, challenged the décor gods and put up Christmas Crapola (my mothers' words not mine) two weeks ago. Not all of it of course, too shocking, but a doorway here and a window there. The flannel valence below  was a thrift shirt I cut up and hot glued. My mother didn't call it 'crapola' for nothing.

The Lone Door Through Which All Must Pass

The Door Into Our Mudroom

Inside the Looney Bin. 
The Barn Picture is currently up for sale on eBay if interested 

But since we only have one doorway into the Looney Bin, it was still an impressive start. I blame the grandbabies for this, and the aging process, and the aging process going on within the grandbabies. It all rolls back to that blog I wrote recently about time going by too fast.

I also blame the Three French Hens Holiday Market, visited recently by myself, my daughter and my two daughter-in-laws. Below are pics from that wonderful event in Morris, Illinois. I was-how shall I say -inspired. I mean after all, we have 90% of this type of inventory all over our farm, all I have to do is gather it together.

Like the sign my daughter saw that read "Yes, we know you can make it yourself, but will you?"








I decided that when the GK's come to visit each Sunday this next month, I'd like them to have a bit

more Santa/Angel/Snowman/Reindeer folly to revel in. The season is short. The babies grow up too fast.  The parents will continue their eye rolling behind my back.

Besides, the dreary, gray, rainy, snowy, November weather continues and I needed some additional lighting effects and the proverbial red bow, to lift my spirits.


Friday, November 16, 2018

1868 House Reduced by Half

My husband.

Such a hard worker.

I so envy his ability to keep (literally) pounding away at this old house on our property. He has almost singlehandedly removed nearly 50% of this building and board by board recycled all that he could. He often works all morning on the house then works all evening at his off farm job. Fortunately he is home weekends.

The 1868 house in June

The 1868 house in November
Missing its south side

Although I help some with burning of trash and pick up duties, my main focus on this project has been in the sidelines. I do all the evening chores and some of the morning chores if he's strapped on time. I keep Keith well fed, well clothed and well hydrated. You know what they say; Behind every demo man stands a woman with fresh cinnamon rolls. Or something like that.

Now, that we've accepted the fact that Fall has been stolen from us and winter is here to stay, we're on our fifth snow already, the demo work will slow and the construction work in the barn will accelerate.

Last week Keith and son Jason started on a couple of the inside barn walls and closed in most of the south side which was open all last winter. This has cut down the wind inside the barn dramatically and makes a more comfortable place to work.

Living in a simultaneous destruction/construction zone is a challenge, especially with the freezing, snowing, melting and subsequent mudding of the property, but at least we have plenty of scrap wood to burn in our rocket mass stove. We expect a messy, chaotic and very cozy (inside) winter!

My writing studio at dusk last week

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

And Hello ...Cold, Wet November!



A beautiful fall day in Pontiac Illinois
Last week

Followed by cold, frosty weather, the very next day

A little ticked about our lack of fall here. A few nice days in October but seems like we're spiraling quickly towards winter. The leaves have been stripped from the trees due to high winds when coupled with the Daylight Savings leap backwards into time and night falling that much quicker, it's obvious what's coming.

Can't complain too much though because we only fired up our rocket mass stove once so far, last night. With the recent damp days our concrete floors were getting cool and even though I bake and/or cook every day, which heats up the ambient air in the grain bin, it's not enough to keep the place warm for too long this time of year.

Still, we made it to November 4 which is over two weeks past our initial rocket mass firing of 2017. Not sure if the weather stayed warmer longer or we are just tolerating cooler temps better each year. Generally if it's 64 degrees or more in the grain bin we are comfortable. But last night the rain made it feel colder and so we broke down, cleaned out the RMH and set our first fire for the fall.

Prepping the stove for another winters' work does not take long. We removed the lid from the steel barrel and vacuumed up all the fine dust that accumulated in the fire brick tower (wrapped in Kaowool, a ceramic fire insulator) and down at the bottom of the barrel. Because the fire burns so hot, the ash is fine and a years accumulation equated to about a half gallon worth of ash.








Then we vacuumed ash from the take out point (black disk to left of barrel) which was minimal. That's the coolest thing about a RMH. There is very little ash or creosote build up in any of the stove pipes we have buried under our concrete floor, and by the time the heat/smoke gets to the main stove pipe leading out of the grain bin, it has been converted into a very clean steam.

It is the ugliest, most efficient heating device we have ever used.

After the cleanouts, we fired up the RMH and within thirty minutes the temp had risen 5 degrees and when we shut it down about two hours into the burn, it was 75 inside! Keith was walking around bareback and I found sleep uncomfortable. I love a cool bedroom. Now, over 24 hours later since firing up the RMH, the inside temp is still cozy at 68 degrees.



Freezing temps are expected later this week however, so we'll likely run the RMH some tomorrow night to keep the concrete floor "battery" charged with heat, which will be slowly released in the hours in between burns.

The stainless steel barrel, which acts as the primary conductor for the heat generated by wood burning, was hot enough last night for Keith to cook an egg on and warm enough today for me to rise bread and then finish drying a couple pair of jeans still damp from hanging outside.




Ah, if only I were so multi-talented.

Soon we'll be full blown into the routine of gathering wood every day to burn, stacking it in the mudroom to ensure a dry load for the next burn, scooping out the ashes from the wood feed chamber the day before, restarting the fire and then sitting close to the RMH for 2-3 hours every evening while feeding wood into it, but for now we'll probably only need to burn it every two-three days.

It's part of our ritual for bringing in the next season, and considering the person who stocks the stove ends up sitting/reading in the rocker next to it, we're not that disappointed to see this cool season arrive a bit early. Pros and cons, pros and cons.