Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Room with a View in the 1868 House

Demolition continues in the 1868 house with the roof of the south side completely removed by Keith along with a good hunk of the side walls in that upstairs section.  The picture above and on the left is taken looking south into what was once two upstairs bedrooms and a hallway. The picture on the right is taken while standing on a ladder and looking north into the section of the house which we will we will leave standing this winter. 

Looks a bit Chalet like doesn't it? 

The pics below give a better view of the floor boards that will be removed after the walls are down. We'll use that wood to build the lofts in the new barn. Since the staircase comes out of the newer (1900?) area of the house, we believe the two original floors were connected by only a ladder, Little House on the Prairie Style.

While up there I couldn't resist climbing on the ladder and taking some shots of the surrounding areas, even though everything all around the 1868 house is generally an organized mess.

This is the old deck that Keith is using to sort lumber for reassignment, burn pile vs keep pile to be used in the barn. It was likely added onto the house in the 70's. Just south of that is...

our new barn. I like this view because it shows all the recycled steel sides from the 1950's machine shed we bought, had dismantled and moved here, and then reconstructed, along with the brand new steel roof. The south side of the barn still needs closing in. 

Behind the barn is my horses pasture. To the right is our current feed shed which is in poor condition but we'll tackle THAT project another year! Moving around to the east...

is our current cow milking shed. Keith built it a few years ago and it's holding up well. The white pipe running from it to the old house, connects to the vacuum pump still located in the small section of back porch of the house not yet removed. That part won't be torn down until we can move the vacuum pump into the new barn for milking. It's huge and heavy. We use the green metal pen just to corral Liz long enough for milking. The rest of the day she is out on pasture. Moving further north east...

you can see the livestock trailer which will be loaded up with all the recycled aluminum siding (the pile of beige) torn off the house. That livestock trailer has been put to use for many tasks this year, not the least of which was actual hauling of livestock. 

That concludes todays tour. Please leave your donations at the front desk.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Meat, Meat and More Meat

It is Fall.

 Fall in Illinois means cool nights, sunny warm days, rapidly changing leaf colors and of course, in our instance, livestock to the lockers.

Our Freedom Ranger broilers were more than ready (size wise) for their trip to Arthur, Il and Central Illinois Processing Plant. We were up at four last Friday in order to get chores done and make the two hour drive south. We borrowed chicken crates from our friends at Timberfeast (thanks again Katie and Mark) and loaded up the birds after dark on Thursday. Easier to catch that way.

Exact butchering/processing cost was $134 for 38 birds or about $3.53 per bird which included the slaughter, the carcass cleaning, the cutting into pieces of half the birds while leaving the other half whole, the vacuum packing, and cooling of carcasses.  We dropped the birds off at seven am and they were ready for pickup at noon.

So happy we did it this way instead of butchering our own as we've done for the last 20 years, especially since Keith is spending any free time he has on the 1868 house demo.

After dropping them off with our instructions for cut up, we cruised the wild Amish streets of Arthur, got a bite to eat and found a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE, garage sale. Seriously, it was big. The owners were "Storage Wars" folk who buy up at auction, various storage units. They sell some of the loot on Craigslist, but what's left becomes part of their twice a year garage sale. I forgot to take pictures as I was too busy stuffing my basket with deals.

I scored great, inexpensive stuff, for future Birthday and Christmas gifts as well as our own farm needs. Work boots and jeans for 50 cents each ? Yes, please. My savings from my purchases there more than paid for our gas, the cost of the broiler butchering, and our meals out that day. 

On the way home we took a detour west to Lincoln, Il where we purchased five tiny piglets for our winter hog crop. They are cross bred Red Wattles and we'll raise them until early spring 2019. They are the replacements for the three big fat summer hogs who went to the locker yesterday, plus two more as a couple of our regulars voiced a need for a whole hog rather than just half. 

Below are the 7 month old big hogs meeting their five week old replacements.  Note the difference in the pasture area. Hogs, over time, do a great job of tilling the earth and working organic matter like bedding and manure into the soil, while eating grubs at the same time. Here in the US less than 5% of all hogs raised get to feel the earth under their feet as ours do. The rest suffer their entire lives within the walls of concrete bedded confinement buildings. 

Of the three big hogs, one  will go into our freezer while the other two will grace the freezers of three other customers. They had a most excellent time here the last few months eating organic grain, slurping up leftover milk from our cow, digging happily in their large pasture, and bathing at will in their spa like mud hole.

Even their last day was filled with pleasure as I used a few eggs to tease them onto the livestock panel before their ride down porkchop highway. 

Now the issue is rearranging all the meat in our freezers, (those big birds took up tons of space) so we'll have room for the bacon, chops, hams, sausages, hocks and shoulder roasts that will be ready for pickup in about three weeks.Yes, you're right, we have nothing to complain about, our meat needs are more than met! 

Except for Salmon. We need to figure out a way to raise Salmon here on the prairie.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The 1868 House Blows its Top

The two stories on the left of the old 1868 house
will be gone by late fall...we hope.
I hate that I am not blogging more but oh well, que sara sara.

It remains super busy here and I am looking forward to our first big snow day where we have good excuses to work INSIDE. Between garden produce management, livestock chores, demo duties, junk in the trunk events to sell more items we no longer need,  and family...we are in a run-run-run-state.  I also recently decided to go back to school for my MFA, but I'll blog about that later. 

It's an insane decision, I'll say that. 

For now our main outdoor focus continues to be on the tearing down of the 1868 house in order to salvage enough wood to build up the new barn. Keith has toiled long and hard in between working his regular 40 hr a week job and our farm responsibilities. He has removed one porch and the sole bathroom plus torn the kitchen part down to the studs. This past week he's focused on removing the roof.

Our plan remains to demolish the south side of the house, both stories (probably added on between 1900 and 1950 in bits and bobs) but to keep the original 1868 house (just four small rooms) as storage until all the loft storage is built in the new barn. It is our hope to have the south side of the house gone by late fall this year. 

Keith's approach to tearing off the roof is one I love safety wise. Working from inside the house, standing on ceiling joists, he is able to avoid actually getting up on top of the roof. 

Look closely in the trees and you'll see Keith

Each day he gets in a couple hours where he rips off old boards with their layers and layers of tar shingles, and slides them down the roof and onto the ground. 

My job is then clean-up. After he leaves for work I'll pick up the shingles and get them in the dumpster via the tractor. I will also separate the wood we can hopefully recycle from the wood that must be burned. Some of it goes directly on the burn pile while smaller pieces is piled up for use in our rocket mass stove for this winter.

The days have been hot, high 80's, and humid, but the nights have cooled off enough for good sleep. Summer just keeps hanging on here in Central Illinois. By Sunday though we expect rain and cooler days. Looking forward to it. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Hurry up, it's LONG DISTANCE! My Outdoor Phone Booth

I miss that, the excitement that permeated the air when the phone rang and the caller at the other end, an aunt, a grandparent, or an old friend, from another state would call. If someone called long distance you ran to the phone, because it was expensive and you paid by the minute.

In that vein, I have a special spot here on The Poor Farm, complete with a vintage phone that once belonged to my Aunt Bernie. She never wasted time on the phone but got to the point quickly. Always sensitive to the financial needs of her siblings, she had never married and took her oldest sister responsibilities seriously, she gave or received information on the phone in a most efficient manner.

Time wasting conversations such as those about weather, family gossip or political arguments (she loved those!) could wait until she saw that caller in person. She died a few years ago at the age of 93 and I miss her. So when I wanted to create a quiet spot here I had to include her old phone which she owned and used for decades.

None of those lightweight, silly pink princess phones for her, let alone a cell phone.

The decking in this spot came from our old farm and is getting on in age. We'll need to replace it in a year or two. The impatients were an anniversary gift from Keith back in June. I lined up some old posts running parallel to the sides of the deck and filled the 6 inch gap with our compost. I blocked off the end with recycled brick to keep the soil in place. 

Over the top I placed some coated wire mesh to keep the chickens out. It looked ugly when the flowers were little but soon it was  barely noticeable. It took a couple months for the impatients to fill those areas but now in early September they look wonderful.

This spot, which is located between my clothesline and our front door to the Looney Bin , gets a nice breeze and is always in the shade. A cool oasis, especially earlier this week when temps were back in the 90's again.

When the GK's visit we'll sit there and I'll let them practice dialing on the phone the old fashioned way. I'll pretend talk to my Aunt Bernie which cracks up the 3 year old grandson and makes the 10 year grandson roll his eyes. 

That's why I'm here. Entertainment and embarrassment. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Una Vita Dolce

Una vita dolce is Italian for "a sweet life". I took three semesters of Italian when I returned to school a few years ago, and I'm going to use it!

Of course now that I've used up one of the four phrases I remember, I'll have to pace myself, but the sweet life reference has never been more prevalent here than it was a few days ago.

Our two older GK's Allana (14) and Wesley (10)  helped us harvest this years honey and at the end of the day we had 160 pounds of the golden post-nectar liquid. Most of it ended up in bottles and pails but a fair amount is still stuck to parts of the floor, and as my daughter-in-law Tab discovered yesterday, on the seat of one of our kitchen chairs. 

What a sticky mess.

We have to harvest it inside where the bees won't follow us. They are a bit possessive of their hard work. It makes our work area, the 21 foot diameter Looney Bin, a bit crowded but workable. 

We were thrilled that our hives did so well since many of our neighboring bee keepers in the county have lost some or all of their hives due to pesticide spraying by conventional farmers, hive mites, malnutrition or queen bee failure. (Sure, blame it on the mama bee, how typical)

Fortunately, our bees thrived this year. We attribute it to the fact we did not harvest honey last year leaving the bees with plenty of food for winter. Plus I planted tons of bee-loving annuals for the bees to party in and I kept birdbaths, bowls filled with water. We made it easy for our bees to stay home instead of having to fly all over the county to get the nutrition they needed.

We also keep our hives on the center of our property in an area of high weeds and tall trees, all of which act as filters should one of the neighbor farmers get a bit heavy handed with their chemical spraying. This combo of food , water and shelter paid off well in that we'll have plenty of honey for our own needs and extra to sell, which always helps with The Poor Farm's budget.

The other huge benefit of this years harvest was working side by side with our GK's and later, with our middle son Jason who dropped by and was recruited to help. (You would think people would learn not to "drop by" as it often ends in extra work for them.) Allana is our true bee whisperer and started working side by side with Keith back when she was 6. 

Now, three bee suits later, she is just enamored with the bees as she was that first summer. Her favorite thing to do is crouch down next to the buzzing hive and lay her head against it. "I love to hear them talking" she says. Her ten year old brother Wesley just expressed an interest this year so he is a new apprentice for us. 

Both kids stuck with us the entire four hours it took to move the honey laden frames from hive supers to the back of pickup, from pickup into house and into the honey spinner, from spinner into buckets and from buckets into bottles. Truly, we had honey spattered over most of the kitchen surfaces and we did more finger licking than Colonel Sanders himself.

Una giornata fantastica!

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.