Saturday, June 16, 2018

If you love me, you'll trench me...


 ..or something like that.

Here it is, Father's Day weekend, and when others are bright enough to spend it boating, camping, cooking out, or just chilling out, what does my husband do?

He trenches the electrical line to my writing studio.
In 90 degree heat.

It wasn't all about me though. He also trenched the electrical line for our new (recycled) barn. We picked up our rental trencher ($150/day) early this am. Keith started at the barn and worked his way backwards, that's how the trencher runs, to the main electrical box for the farm.

Along the way he had to cross an old sidewalk. Trenching on either side, he'll dig out under the sidewalk by hand, run some conduit underneath the sidewalk and then thread the electrical wire through it.

Once he arrived at the main electrical box he switched direction in order to dig the trench to my studio. This time he had our driveway to contend with. You can see the farms power pole and box at the top of the trench. 

Then he worked his way down to my studio.

Later tonight, when it cools off and tomorrow am before it heat up again, we'll unroll the big spool of electrical wire (an anniversary gift from friend Jay) and thread it into the trenched ditches.

For the last year and a half, since we moved my studio, our old retail farm store building, from the old farm to our new farm, I've used long drop cords to run a couple of lights in there. Once the real wiring is installed, I'll have several outlets for lights and a tiny frig to keep cold drinks. We also have s small window AC unit we can put in for the really hot days I might be in there. Generally though, I write in the evenings and since the building is in a low shaded spot, I get decent breezes down there that keep the studio comfy cool.

Back in the barn, Keith will also be able to ditch all the drop cords he has been using to run his power tools as we continue work on the building. He'll also be able to install some overhead lights and we'll be able to move our freezers out of the icky 1856 house into the new barn.

Off the grid wise, we do supply all our own heat and we have a well for our water needs but Com Ed electricity is something we'll be dependent upon  At our age, late 50's, we know it's unlikely we'd live long enough to see a solar power investment pay off. We'll have to let the next generation who lives here, deal with that.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Stop and Smell the Cabbage

I deeply enjoy many other blogs. I read when I can, comment when I am awake enough. One I envy for it's calming nature, is A Brit in Tennesee. Not only does she routinely share serene and thought provoking quotes, that the writer in me revels in, she also shares her garden photography which often stops me in my tracks.

It is rare for me to stop in my tracks.

I have been know to stumble in my tracks, weave and bob within them, but rarely do I come full stop. I have a difficult time relaxing. It's a flaw that interferes with my ability to enjoy my life. Rather than forever organizing, cataloging, and checking off the tasks accomplished, I need to stop and breathe.

This Brit, reminds me to do that, and I thank her for that.

Early mornings Keith and I do walk our gardens. He observes birds, checks clouds for weather, sips his coffee slowly, toes the dirt checking for moisture while I am thinking about the next task of the day.

I often miss the beauty in front of me. But, when he noticed a collection of water on a cabbage leaf, I did stop and look.

I am so glad I did. The curve of the leaf, the shape of the rain drop bubble, the brilliance of the morning light. It was a full stop moment.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Ring Around The Grain Bin, Our Extra Insulation Works!

 Last September I blogged about the condensation problem we had on the floor inside the grain bin house and our plans to fix it , but first let me backtrack a bit.

Originally, when we built our "Looney Bin" (summer of 2015)  we had poured the foundation of the bin and then placed pink solid foam boards between the foundation and the earth bermed up next to it. In the picture below the pink foam board had been picked at by our chickens but what you cannot see in the additional 2 feet of foam UNDER the ground.

We had never built or insulated a grain bin home before and neither had the man who did the foundation for us, so it was a collaborative effort between us. We hoped that by placing the foam board between the concrete foundation and the soil, it would help keep the concrete floor warm in our new abode.

The floor did stay warm, mostly because of the pipe within the floor where the hot gases from the rocket mass stove travel until they go out our chimney, but the portion of our concrete floor nearest the circular wall, stayed cool. Condensation built up on our inside floor about 6 to 12 inches away from the inside wall. We also had a little mold growing in that area. 

In the winter of 2017 we bought a dehumidifier which helped some but did not completely eliminate the problem.

Thus, in the Fall of 2017 Keith called the company that did our interior wall insulation and asked their opinion on the floor condensation. They suggested a layer of spray on foam applied to the outside of the grain bin itself. It looked like this:

Over the last eight months the lovely mint green color of the spray on foam changed to a not so lovely Harvest Gold of the seventies.
I think Carol Brady would approve.

But, it accomplished it's goal of eliminating the condensation buildup on the inside floor. This past winter we had no moisture or mold on our concrete floor. Happy days!  It also stayed intact through rain, ice and snow storms which our insulation guy said it would.

Our next task is to build seating to cover the insulation around the diameter of the entire looney Bin.The seat sides will be made with additional grain bin steal we had purchased from our builder last fall, and will have a wooden top. Which of course must be cut to fit the curved sides of the bench. We might even attach some hinges to some areas in order to store items within the bench such as garden tools, laundry baskets, flower pots, blankets for outdoor seating...once again, the possibilities are endless. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Fifty Chickens Dinners Just Delivered

I've posted before about the chickens we've raised for our own meat. We buy them online (usually twenty-five) and they are delivered at one day of age by the US Post Office. When they arrive in our small Post office we're called and we pick them up right away.

After about 12 weeks we butcher and process all of them, giving us a great homegrown chicken dinner every two weeks or so. 

It's never been enough. We love our own farm raised chicken!

So after our regular fall butchering, we made two big decisions. The first was to double the number of chicks raised for meat from twenty-five to fifty, and the second even more exciting one; TO PAY SOMEONE ELSE TO DO THE BUTCHERING FOR US!

For just $3.00 each  they will butcher, clean, and vacuum wrap our birds. Since the plant is about 2 hours from our home we'll drop the birds off early and spend the day in the lovely Amish town of Arthur, until they are ready. It's a great reason for a date day! Sure, it's cheaper to do it yourself but 

Two weeks ago, our Freedom Ranger broilers arrived. With fifty little cheeps, we needed a larger brooder for their first home. In true recycling fashion Keith build this jewel all from materials on hand.

Because baby chicks are very vulnerable to cold weather the first couple of weeks, we lined the earth bottom with heavy plastic and then covered that with wood shavings. A heat lamp was hung alongside a temperature gauge . Baby chicks like temps right about 100 degrees the first week or so.

Both sides lift up for ventilation on warm days and the front section will have a removable board placed over it to keep drafts off the babies at night.  It's easy to set aside the front board so the chicks can come and go freely as they mature. Below you can see the front board in place.

We've located the little broilers at one end of our soon to be sweet corn garden, with a small area enclosed with...wait for it...chicken wire. My sister visited the other day and commented she had seen chicken wire used for many projects, but never actually for chickens! When the chicks are older and our sweet corn is high enough they can't hurt it, we'll turn them into the rest of the sweet corn garden to do bug and grub control. We'll also remove the brooder and give them other shelter from rain for the rest of the summer. That "other shelter" is still on the drawing board.


I'm  happy that our ten year old grandson Wesley doesn't think he's too big to hold baby chicks any more. Also thrilled that he can appreciate how we raise them and still be able to enjoy fried chicken at our place. So many youngsters have no idea where their food comes from thinking it's origination the grocery store.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Our Garbage Gardens

 When we moved here April 2015 we tilled a small area by our feed shed and planted a few things. It did not produce well as the ground here was total junk, I was still in school full time and Keith was building our grain bin house.

Summer of 2016 went a bit better. The first garden was planted with popcorn and it produced well. We also tilled a second garden spot by our home but the soil was filled with clay. Some herbs grew and a few tomatoes but not much else except beans. Beans did very well. We ate a lot of beans that summer.

Summer of 2017 we tilled a third garden. This one was farther away from the grain bin house and the soil was easier to work with. We had a variety of veggies but the weeds got away from us as we were focused on building the new barn. (Excuses? You bet. We have tons of them). Garden number one was planted with tomatoes that failed, but we turned our broiler chickens into that area and they thrived. So what we lacked in canned tomatoes we made up for with chicken dinners. 

Present day. 

Garden number one by the feed shed is in its fourth year and the soil is rich and loamy. We added lots of organic material to it last summer and plan to fill it with sweet corn and popcorn. It's fenced in so no problems with chickens tearing up things. The few in the picture below are allowed in until we plant. Lots of worms to eat!

Garden Number One
For Popcorn and Sweet Corn
Two Weeks Ago 
Garden number two or "The Kitchen Garden" is the one just off our homes entry way and in its third year. It is still heavy with clay but after adding organic material to it in the way of straw, rotted hay, compost from the cows manure pile, and cardboard (!) it is now teaming with earthworms. I've expanded my herbs in this area and planted spinach, lettuce mixes, radishes, peas, cherry tomatoes, spaghetti squash, zucchini, cukes and flowers such as cosmos, zinnias, gladiolas, poppies, coreopsis, nasturtiums, iris, marigolds and sunflowers.

The Kitchen Garden Two Weeks Ago

I want COLOR this year! I also want to walk only a few feet to gather up salad and flower bouquet material for our home.

Garden number three is the Main Garden or Garbage Garden as I often refer to it. It has been planted with large tomatoes, beans, asparagus, onions, potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, garlic, rhubarb, beets, and peppers. 

It's the Garbage Garden (above) not because of its vegetable contents, but because of Keith's creative ways of protecting tender young transplants. This year he pulled out all the stops, as well as all the "inventory" he'd been saving in the decrepit house, including but not limited to: plastic boxes, plastic milk and juice cartons, antique bricks, wood boards, PVC pipe pieces, old foosball game rods, glass lamp shades and oil lamp globes. Average and arguably, saner folk, will cover their plants with lovely row covers of similar shape and size, but we are cheap here on The Poor Farm and so we use what is on hand. It is a functional, but untidy garden the first few weeks. 

Image result for Beautiful vegetable gardens with row covers
Not Our Garden
Our Garden
Our Garden 

As the plants grow and become more resistant to weather extremes, and hungry robins, the "inventory" will find it's way back to the decrepit house. How do I know this? Because Keith is the garbage collector and I am the garbage put away-er.

It's a team effort.

Definitely our garden

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Missing Blogger Back on Duty

Sorry about that.
I blinked and three weeks went by.

I blame our extended holiday. Keith and I made it to Hannibal Mo. for two nights to celebrate our upcoming 25th wedding anniversary. The highlight of our trip was the tour we took of Rockcliffe Mansion in Hannibal. Thirty rooms of early 1900's opulence!

We had to go in April because Liz the cow was dried off in anticipation of her calfs' arrival. (She's due any day now.) We stop milking our cows before their due date to allow mama cow to build increased reserves. Thus the reason we went on vacation when we did; it's much easier to get someone to do a few livestock chores when it doesn't include cow milking!

Special thanks to our daughter Raven and GK Allana for doing said chores by the way.

After that, the weather turned on us. Weeks of cold, rainy, even snowy spring days finally morphed into warmer weather and that called for serious garden time. We've been planting something, somewhere, for the last two weeks. This year we'll have three plots: the Potager Garden by the door of The Looney Bin, (herbs, salad stuff and flowers for cutting), the Main Garden father west of that (all the other vegetables not in the Potager Garden), and the Corn Garden out back alongside our feed shed (sweet corn and popcorn). I'll explain why we have three gardens in my next post.

In the midst of that I've been writing and submitting more homestead specific articles. I'm thrilled to report that Self-Reliance Magazine will be publishing my article about DIY Family Cemeteries in their Summer 2018 edition. 

Most recently I was busy planning for a visit from long lost Indiana cousins on my mother's side. So happy to see them and spend solid time catching up. We met for dinner one night, lunch at my sister Teresa's the next day, followed by caravanning across 6 counties in order to see even more sisters. It was a great weekend. We completely exhausted each other.

Today it was hot, and tomorrow will be hotter, in the high 80's, followed by severe thunderstorms predicted at the end of the week. We have a chicken brooder pen to complete, more garden seeds to get in the ground and of course, the barn to finish. Stay tuned, it's going to be one crazy summer!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Totally Wired

In June, Keith and I will celebrate our 25th anniversary. A few years ago we discussed several options for this event and one was an Alaskan Cruise. I love water, he loves the wilds of nature, so it felt perfect. But plans don't always materialize, nor do large amounts of money for said plans . Life throws us curve balls. We learn to duck. We regroup.

Now, our greatly restructured plans involve a trip right here in our home state. Instead of traveling 3600 miles to see a few whales, we'll be motoring just 230 miles to Quincy Illinois on the Mississippi River, where we hope to see a few Catfish.

Compromises. We're getting good at them.

So what does this all have to do with a big spool of electrical wire? Plenty. When our good friend Jay heard of our change in anniversary plans, he wanted to fund the trip for us. Generous. He is so generous. But we could not with good conscious accept his offer. He said to us, "Then tell me what you do want or I'll end up getting you something you don't".

We came up with wire.

To finish our barn we need a south wall, a loft, walls for Keith's shop and electrical wire. Wire to run electricity to the barn and to my writing studio. And so, Jay bought us the wire as our 25th anniversary gift and we could not be happier.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Wearing Dead People's Clothes

Born Leather Driving Moccasins Brand New in Box
Paid $1.00 at Church Rummage Sale

Decades ago I wore suits and heels to work. Not such a handsome sight as I was much heavier, but still, it was the culture I worked in. I believed success was measured by a label and the amount paid for that label. Silly me.

Crawl forward to 2018 and 95% of our clothing comes from thrift stores or family. I have three sisters and we are constantly swapping clothes. Love my sisters.

Once a year or so though, Keith needs a new pair of rubber chore boots and I've yet to source a good pair for him for cheap. I shop in the thrift store nearby every week as a rule. Sometimes I buy a lot and sometimes very little, but I am always buying for the next season and the season after that.

I may not need a winter chore coat right now, but it's certain I'll need one later so better to buy it in mid August when available for $1.99, then have to pay retail price later because of poor planning.

Of that 95% , I estimate about 50% of those clothes come from dead people. How do I know? Well, because in our neck of the woods the thrift shop owners have a wicked sense of humor and isolate those clothes in a separate part of the shop under a sigh that blares, "Deceased Duds".

I'm kidding.

 Some actual tell tale signs though are names like "Ethyl, Marjorie, Fred and Ralph" written in black permanent marker inside the collar or on the clothing tag. Generally these folks lived in nursing homes where clothing is easily mixed up and identifying them by first or last name is routine. I've yet to come across the name "Buffy" or "Skylar" inscribed on a tag but as the younger population ages, it's just a matter of time.

After a person dies, families are then left with the task of sorting through the returned clothes, many of which are donated to thrift shops. BINGO! I then get a great deal.

It is amazing and equally appalling the huge number of clothing that filters through the US. Many I find at our local thrift stores are brand new with tags still in place, no tags but barely worn, or worn but with lots of wear still left in them. I no longer bother with Goodwill who has elevated their prices to near retail amounts over the last year, but instead concentrate my shopping at four local thrift stores located within 15 miles from me. I am a great supporter of church rummage sales as well.

Some folks are creeped out by buying used clothing which I've never understood. "New" clothing that comes off the rack at Macy's or Dunnes has likely been handled, sneezed upon, or dropped on the floor just as often as used clothing. An intact sale tag does not guarantee cleanliness. A good wash and hang outside fixes most ills regardless of the source.

Of course I am selective about what I buy. No stains, no holes and zippers must work. In addition, I complete a through crotch check looking for suspicious spots and fabric wear. This is an essential skill but best to leave off any resume.

If the item is intended only for outside chores, then stains on legs and knees is no big deal. I also sniff clothing. Heavy smoke smells are left behind but a wash in white vinegar can clear up mild smoke smells easily, along with a day or two in a plastic bag in our freezer. What we cannot use, gets sold on eBay for some extra cash.

I have sent jeans to Australia, blouses to England and Birkenstock shoes to Somalia.

Additionally, I buy clothing gifts for GK's in thrift stores and the older ones have learned the value of spending their own money there. When I'm dead they may not remember that I read them a little Shakespeare or made them listen to the Eagles and Crosby, Stills and Nash, but at least they can say "She taught me how to source dead people's clothes."

One cannot expect higher praise. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

First Day of Spring Walk About The Poor Farm

I've always enjoyed it when bloggers can share bigger views of their homes/farms. Everything we see is usually in close ups as if fellow bloggers life in three dimensional boxes or perfectly placed frames. I often do the same, small pictures here and there but not enough of the whole scene. So I followed my own desire and ventured out to the far edges of the property to get some better views for you. 

Actually Keith and I were walking the perimeter of our seven acres checking fences, but lets pretend .it was all of you I had in mind. 

To the left is our metal grain bin house, Just to the right of that is the old 1865 house we'll be tearing down this summer. To the right of that is the old feed shed and the new barn, which is very hard to see, is behind that old feed shed. Then to the farther right is my red and white writers studio. The last dark building is an old pig shed built in the 19th century we believe. 

Above is the same view but moving to the north a bit in order to see our tiny pond which is to the left of the large weeping willow tree. The main road that runs in front of our property is to the left of the pond. One day we hope to dig out that pond and expand it. For now, it houses hoards of frogs which are making a lovely sound in the evenings as they call out for mates. 

Walking south we pass by an area of deadwood which has a charm of its own. The GK's enjoy climbing on the lower branches and in the hot summer it is a cool place to retreat. Future plans include a shade garden here with  Hosta, Lily of the Valley, Astilbe, etc.. and a comfy place to sit.

I never tire of the old wooden posts put in by the farmers who lived here decades ago, wrapped with the barb wire that was used to fence in livestock. The electric wire we use to enclose the acreage  today sits within the old fence, so our animals are not at risk of being harmed by the old barbwire. With every walk though, there are loose pieces to pick up and discard. 

 Here is our cemetery site. A small corner section of our 7 acres set aside for family burials when the time comes. Now,. we use it for pasture for our two steers but future plans include a wind break of lilac trees. To the south and west of our family cemetery is plowed ground owned by neighboring farmers.

This dang green stuff above is Hemlock. Poisonous and invasive we struggle to control it in several sections of our property. Amazing how green it is already when very little else is coming up . 

And finally the view from the other side of the farm where you can see the new and still-under-construction barn on the left , the 1865 house in center and our chicken house behind the tiny blue barrel. The white shed on the right houses our four feeder pigs. The grain bin house is covered by trees. We located all our buildings in the center of our property with the pastures surrounding us. We did that for convenience of chores and for economy in running water and electrical lines. 

Finishing up our third year here, it's obvious we still have a very long way to go before I get the pretty little farm I dream of. But, we've made great progress.  With spring officially here, and about 50 packets of flower seeds on my kitchen table, I have hope we'll make substantial strides towards the aesthetic this summer. 

I have discovered that flowers, like snow, can cover a multitude of sins.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Spring Cleaning and Painting and Framing and Finishing

We moved here in April of 2015 and lived in a dinky 1978 Shasta Camper for six months while we built our Grain Bin House. Move in day was mid October that year .

I'd like to say we moved in because the Grain Bin was complete but the truth was, we had no heat or bathroom in the camper and we were tired of showering outside. Brrrr. The rooms in the Grain Bin were dry walled, the stairs were finished, and the bathroom was functioning but that was about it. That winter we painted walls and built our kitchen.

Then we got busy with the next spring's garden and since I was still in school full time, all the bits and bobs inside were left undone. Like framing two windows, putting floor trim up, patching holes left by the dry wallers (and us), hanging the rest of the lights and putting a door on our bedroom, to name just a few.

But last week we got crackin' and dished out a few bucks at our local Menards in order to finish what we started. Problem is-space. It's too cold to paint outside or work in Keith's unheated workshop in the old creepy house, so we had to spread out in our living area downstairs. The rocket mass stove and my laundry rack both were put to use as substitute sawhorses.

Quite the mess we made with all the window frames that had to be painted and then allowed to dry. Plus moving items out of the pantry in order to close in the stair case and paint it.

But, we are making progress on our to do list whether it looks like it or not. In Keith's regular fashion, he used all recycled wood for the window frames. Some came from a sister's kitchen remodel while other pieces came from the creepy house. A door frame there (easily 100 years old) became a new window frame here. Paint does work miracles.

We still have drapes to hang in the upstairs among other things but we expect to have it all done before the weather warms up.

As soon as THAT happens we're back working on the barn!

Thursday, March 8, 2018


 It's a simple title for a simple post.

This is Wing. A diminutive rooster born and raised on The Poor Farm. For whatever reason he came directly out of his shell with a broken right ring. See how it hangs low, in the above photo. His siblings denied rough housing and his mother denied taking any drugs or abusing alcohol during his incubation.

The father has never been clearly identified.

We certainly considered a euthanasia approach to this little guy but his spirit was astonishing. he kept up with his family, stayed close to his mother and thrived. As he aged though we noticed his tendency to end up on his back; a balance issue we decided.

Once a larger animal, like one of our massive dogs, brushed against him, he'd get flipped over and be unable to right himself. Again, we considered sending him to the big free-range pasture in the sky. Instead we'd gently use the tip of our boot and "right" him. He'd take off to find his buddies. Perhaps embarrassed that he needed help.

Over time he has become a loner, choosing to hang closer to our two dogs than to his own kind. Chickens are not always so considerate of the handicapped. At times another rooster will pick on him and he ends up on his back again. Oddly the bullying rooster then backs off, not wanting to be the jerk who picks on another rooster when he's down I suppose.

Now, into Wing's third year, it's become routine to have to "right" him once or twice a day. I worry that if he wanders too far and gets himself flipped over where we don't see him,  he'll simply succumb over a few days, but he seems to know to stick close.

He knows the dogs have the best food and prefers to eat with them, so why wander?