The House is Dead – Long live the Farm!

Cedar in a hard hat
I spent three days with Dad putting shingles on the house last year, when we had no idea how little time it had left.

It was a house. I have walked out of many doors without a second glance backward. It was my family’s home for more than two decades, an old farmhouse with more problems than most women would have put up with. It was a home, and it came tumbling down. I listened to my father telling one of the men about it, while I was picking blueberries from bushes I planted a few years ago. The last time I will be able to do that, I believe.

Dad explained the history first, as he always does.

“It was part of the old Moses Farm. The big house was over there,” he gestures to the West. I know this without seeing him, I have heard it so many times. “This was the aunt’s house,” he goes on.

It was a dairy farm, back then. There was a big barn out behind the house, but it had been gone, burned down, for forty years when we moved in. The foundation was covered in weeds, but off to one side is where the horseradish grew best. There was a truck garden, too, that earned the spinsters money, and that is where our greenhouse and garden were now located as well.

The dairy farm, and an old New England custom, is what brought the house down, a hundred and fifty years after it was so carefully constructed right over an active spring. The spring kept the milk fresh and sweet until it was sent to market. There was a dumbwaiter in the floor where the big tin cans could be lowered into the cellar and put in the cold water. Also, in winter it was a source of water when the shallow hand-dug well froze over. It had been long filled in and rarely bubbled up when I lived there, but we always had a damp, if not wet, basement, because of it. The stone foundation and dirt floor of the old part of the house meant that the sills and beams would eventually rot.

When I came to the house as a teen I didn’t worry about that. I was more concerned with the fields, forest, and streams outside. I would lay up in my attic bedroom, which sweltered in the summer and froze in winter, reading and listening to my radio. Later, coming back to the house as an adult, I learned more about the house’s faults. It had been renovated in the sixties, by someone with no money and less sense. The wiring we uncovered as we replaced walls was terrifying. Often three-foot chunks of salvaged wire, it was simply taped together. We had a dead short in the kitchen that led to the breaker box spitting arcs of blue electrical discharge. Dad came home, I told him what it was doing, and he said, “nah, can’t be.” He walked downstairs, and I watched from the top as he threw the breaker back on – and jumped back a little when it arced.

There were memories in every inch of that place. My third daughter was born there, upstairs, with the midwife running late and the baby coming early. The midwife made it just in time. My son came home from the hospital at a day old to that house. My first two daughters were both toddlers when we moved back in with Dad, and don’t remember any other home. It wasn’t a big house, and we were often cramped, but it was happy. The kids played inside and out. I canned, cooked, ran a business, and tried to mother best I could.

Cedar Sanderson
Homework at the Kitchen Table

The kitchen was the heart of the home. Every bit as big as the living room, it was dominated by a heavy table in the center, and that was where we gathered. Guests came and sat and drank coffee (or smaller ones, milk and juice) and talked, while I got together the meal. If you had been at that table more than once, you weren’t a guest, you were family, and you were welcome to pitch in and help. I always appreciated the conversation of someone I didn’t get to see often enough, while I worked. I taught all four of my children to cook in that kitchen, even my son, from the time they were old enough to stand on a milk crate to reach the counters, and hand me things to help.

The last few years at the farm my bedroom was just off the kitchen, and it was also my office. Because we had shut off cable, the only place to watch a show was on my computer. We didn’t watch a lot of television or movies, but when we did so, everyone piled on my bed to be able to see the monitor. I’d sit with my back to the wall, and a pile of kids around me, on my legs… Dad would come sit on the edge, or in my office chair, and it was messy, but fun.

I moved away in the spring. At first we thought it was a temporary move, but then my Dad knew he needed to be able to offer his parents a place to stay, as they were no longer able to be on their own. When the house was examined for repair, the true damage to the sills became evident. We had known for years that part of the Eastern sill was shot. The man who sold us the house had camouflaged it with two-by-twelve board, and because a home inspection was not done before purchase, this went unseen. What we didn’t know was how far the rot had spread, up even into the support beams. The house was dying.

Farm House
Strangely emotional at the sight of it all in a heap.

I came back in the late summer to visit, and watch the house come down. I arrived too late to see the initial collapse, but they had just brought it down when I pulled into the drive. The chimney still stood, amazingly enough. We had been expecting that, built without a proper foundation, to come down almost since we moved in. Swarms of wasps darted around the heap of the broken house. They had been nesting in the attic and walls for more than a hundred generations, one summer to the next, and now they had lost a home, as well. I stood and watched as the excavator bit into the bones of the house, cracking the brittle wood with abandon, and lifting piles into waiting dumpsters.

It was just a house. I grew up a military brat, moving more times than I can remember as a child. Houses came and went. This one was a little different, as difficult as it was to live in at times, it was my home, and my children’s, and the memories will always be with us. The moisture in my eyes was just from the dust of the old wood and plaster. It certainly wasn’t me crying over a house.

Cedar's farm story
The kids stand where the living room used to be.
Also blogged over at 
I will not be posting any longer here at the farm blog, this is the swan song for my time as a farmwife. Maybe I will have my own place in years to come! 

Run, Chicken, Run!

After putting up the coop, we needed a run for the chickens and ducks to stretch their legs in. We wanted to enclose the area the length of the greenhouse, and incidentally this meant we wouldn’t need to fence that side. Yep, we’re lazy farmers.

Coop full of birds.

We built the run and then covered it with bird netting, as chickens fly quite well, contrary to popular belief. The run is necessary in our area, as free-range chickens quickly fall prey to our numerous predators. Ours will need to be moved on occasion to keep them from turning their run area into a desert.


We have the run up and covered.


The chicken run area is pretty overgrown, they will reduce that in a very few days.


I was able to count the chickens today for the first time in quite a while. We have only 5 out of the original 12 Gold Pencilled Hamburgs. One is a handsome young rooster. The Goldies are very flighty and nervous birds. None of them have started to lay yet. If they are good layers we may breed for more, but so far I would not repeat them. We have 6 out of 13 Cuckoo Marans. One is a rooster. They are much more sedate, and we have one pullet egg that they laid a few days ago. Hopefully that means more soon! Dad wants to increase our flock of these guys, as they are a dual purpose chicken, good for both meat and eggs. The remainder of our flock is two Aracauna hens, a Buff Orpinton Hen, and two random hens that I’m fairly sure are not laying because they are too old. I will isolate them each for a week to determine and thin from the flock if they aren’t. We also have Theodore the fancy feathers rooster and a young black rooster that was the random chick Murray McMurray threw in with the order from them.

The random rooster


Golden Comet sexlinks


Once we had the coop up we moved the young chickens that had been in the brooder outside. We are keeping them separate from the adult chickens to keep them from being picked on. There are 34 of them at the moment – 30 hens and 4 roosters. If Mom doesn’t get over here in a couple months, I will have eggs coming out my ears.

We were both carrying handfuls of chicks from the garage to the coop. Dad had more than I did.


We use a five gallon bucket for a feeder, and someone asked me for a picture of it. Dad made it by cutting a slit in the bucket with a saw about two inches up from the bottom. Then he heated the bucket with our little propane torch untilt he plastic was malleable. Before it cooled, he shoved a two by four into the slit, forcing the upper lip inward and the lower slightly outward. The result is a feeder they can’t scratch out of, which we can fill full of pellets and it lasts for days. Mash doesn’t work well in it, it tends to get stuck, so for the young chicks we’re using a different feeder. We feed all unmedicated here on the farm. Ideally, we’d feed the chickens very little, but for layers having a high protein feed available is a good thing. We just can’t let them free-range for now. Maybe after we get a dog…

Bucket feeder (at least we can't lose it in the grass!)


Three-Hour Coop

Dad and I were talking about the chicken coop that we really needed to build yesterday while we were out running around. Suddenly it dawned on me. We had all the materials we needed to build the coop and the run, and it wouldn’t take much work, either. I had run across a portable structure while researching something else that would work well for what we are doing. And it wouldn’t take the work a full-scaled wood chicken coop would, which neither Dad nor I wanted to get into right now. We started work on this coop when we got home at 5pm. We were done by 8pm. That was pretty fast!

Planned area for chicken run - the dead zone between greenhouse and planned greenhouse.


We knew where we wanted to put the run at least for the time being, the 12 foot zone next to the greenhouse that is overgrown at the moment with raspberries (wild ones, very unproductive) and bindweed. We also knew that as many chickens as we have, we will want to move them periodically or they will turn their runs into a desert. It’s a compromise between ease of building, ease of moving, and some protection from predators.

We grabbed the abandoned pig tractor, which was made up of four 3 foot by 16 foot pig panels, and took the panels up to the greenhouse. The pigs are in temporary quarters awaiting butchering next week. We bowed each panel by bracing the ends against hardwood stakes driven at least a foot into the ground. Overlapping the edges by a couple of inches and wiring the panels in place gained us an 11 foot by 6 foot coop.

We used fence wire to fasten the panels together. The coop is just over 6 feet tall.

Once the panels were in place we grabbed a big piece of white plastic sheeting Dad had bought for some purpose. It was about 10 foot by 20 feet, and didn’t quite cover the whole length of the coop. In time we will trim the excess off the one side and use it to cover the end. We will be adding wooden end walls to the coop before winter.

Our greenhouse now has a mini-me.


The chickens had been poorly contained by a run of 2 foot high fencing, so we took part of that down and used it to cover the ends of the coop. On the far end, where we built the run today, we put a length of it across the bottom, and then another length above that, almost completely covering the end. Across the front we opted for one length to allow us easy access for putting chickens, feed, and water into the coop. Finally, we closed any gaps with pieces of bird netting. That stuff is all but invisible at dusk, I’ll have you know!

We used boards on the side to fasten the plastic to the coop.

The inside of the coop, ready for birds.

Once we had it as tight as we could make it, since it was now all but dark, we went and started grabbing chickens. Half of them were roosting in the large shrub in their run, and they kept hopping from branch to branch above our heads. We wound up getting most of them, taking an ice-cream break, and coming back for the rest. But, by bedtime, all the birds were secure. Did I mention it was 88 yesterday, and very humid? We were as tired as the chickens!

Strange fruit in that tree.



New Arrivals

The chicks arrived safely this morning about 7 am. There are 35 of them. Everyone looks lively and there were none DIB. Beaks dipped in sugar water, feed, parked under the heat lamp. As you can see, some stayed there and basked, while others scooted around the brooder scratching and pecking. There are cobwebs in there since it hasn’t been used for a while and the chicks thought those were the best toys of their lives (since it has been so very short so far!). Mica and I watched them for a while. The kids don’t even know they are here yet since everyone is sleeping in, and we didn’t tell them the chicks were coming. That will be a fun surprise for later.

Day old chicks - so cute 'n fluffy!

For those of you wondering about chick-raising, we are using a brooder box for this first part of their lives. Made of plywood and hardware cloth, it gives us a way to keep the little guys warm (chicks need to be 95 degrees for the first week of their life, and the temp can be lowered by 5 degrees a week after that.) but to be honest, we have brooded chicks in cardboard boxes, rabbit cages, and kiddie pools. Whatever works.

Our brooder, hinged top open. You can see the chicks are warm as they aren't huddling under the lamp.

Other than the container they are in, you will need a heat lamp, which is a special light bulb in an aluminum cone to further direct the heat onto the chicks. This can be hung or clamped onto the brooder. As the chicks grow, it can be moved further away or turned off at times to allow the chicks to become more cold-hardy. Watch the chicks. If they cluster really tightly underneath it and trample on each other they are cold and you will need to consider protecting them from drafts (a blanket draped over the brooder can work, just keep it away from the lamp) or adding a second lamp. If they scatter to the far walls of the brooder and avoid the lamp, it is too hot, raise it further away from the chicks.

We use a plastic chick feeder, which looks like a long rectangle with a triangular top that has holes in it. Using this kind of feeder prevents the little guys from hopping into it and scratching all their feed out into their bedding and wasting it. Chickens scratch instinctively. The day-old chicks I put into the brooder this morning started to scratch and peck their bedding immediately. It’s fun to give them a little feed to watch them do this, but their feeder will be better off if they can’t scratch and poop in it.

Chicks are already chowing down!

For a waterer, again, we use a chick or quail waterer. Both the feeder and the waterer are les than $5 each, and well worth that little investment to have safe, thrifty uses. We use the quail waterers to feed the bees, as well, so they are multi-use. A chick waterer is a shallow circular well atop which screws on a container that gravity-feeds water into the circle. It is too shallow to allow the chicks to fall in and drown, and as we use a gallon reservoir, we don’t worry about them running out of water.

That is really all you need to brood chicks. We feed chicks special chick feed, as they can’t manage layer pellets, and need a higher protein. We tend to feed unmedicated, partly because we often brood both ducks and chicks together. Ducklings will die if fed medicated feed. For the first watering this morning I put some sugar in with their water, but I have never done this before, so I’m not sure it’s necessary.

Fuzzy little bumble-bee baby.

Hand-reared chickens are friendly.

The ultimate reward for raising your own chickens… eggs! Yum!

Building and Popovers

Three walls up!

The part of the Barn that will be Mica’s forge is going up fast! We have three walls up, and since it will be 16′ tall at the front and 8′ at the back, they decked all of the upper story temporarily while they assemble and raise that front wall. The upper loft will only be 4′ wide when we are finished, and is slated to be hay storage the entire length of the barn, which should be enough! Even though we had sketches, and had planned much of this before we started, the guys still stop, talk about how it’s going up, how it will be used and so on as they go, tweaking the design as needed. The lumber that Peter cut for us is true to size. In other words, his 2×6’s are acutally two inches thick and so on. Comparing them to the lumber we’d gotten from regular sources makes us realize how puny a “2×4” from the big box store had gotten. We’d over designed based on puny lumber, and are getting along with less in some places because it’s so sturdy.

Dad under cover - temporary decking for second floor construction.

Glady found a recipe on my favorite kitchen blog, Smitten Kitchen, for corn chive popovers and wanted to try making them for lunch. I highly recommend you check out the blog for the recipe! This was Glady’s first attempt at popovers and they were delicious and pretty! She is becoming quite the little cook. She made pancakes for breakfast, and Leftover Quesadillas for dinner last night with all the odd stuff that accumulates in the frig. She was bummed that she isn’t going to be able to make dinner tonight, as she will be going up to her great-grandparent’s house tonight.

Popping nicely!


Serving Corn and Chive popovers

One Piece at a Time

We are buidling a barn one piece at a time. Both in the sense of pieces of lumber, and bays of the barn. Eventually, the barn will be 50×12. maybe even 60×12. We are building it in 10×12 bays because that’s all we can afford at a time! The first bay, currently under construction, is to be the Blacksmith shop. Mica is delighted, as this is be the first time he’s ever had a shop all his own. Other bays will be a storage unit, the Pottery, a rabbitry, and a honey house. The possible sixth unit would be for the cow, which is a subject still in debate around here… But plans aside, the Barn is finally rising, smelling of dust and sweat and fresh cut wood. One piece at a time.

We had our lumber cut to order at a local sawyer's. He gave us an excellent price on it.


All the wood had to be hauled home. Dad and Mica are very pleased with themselves.


Dad says he's going to lengthen this beam.


A loose chicken checks out the construction.


Dad and Mica got the first wall up in just a couple hours.


Mica hauling beams and beaming!


The balcksmith shop will have a dirt floor.


Johann is going to have the greatest block collection ever!

Mother of All Blueberry Bushes

Measuring and marking for the barn.

Mica breaks ground for his blacksmith shop, which will occupy the first bay of the barn.


We started out early today, as it’s another hot one. It was up to about 100 degrees yesterday, might hit that much again today. It did rain last night, and started off overcast today, which let us all work until close to one before knocking off for the afternoon. Dad and Mica are putting in the footings for the first tmodule of the garage. I headed off to pick black raspberries, and was up to my waist in brambles when Dad bellowed for me to come up. So I fought my way free of the prickles and headed to the garden, where he announced that BoPop would not be able to take Johann to Lowes for the Junior Builder workshop so could I please take him, in fifteen minutes. Oh, and could you pick up 6 bags of ‘crete while you’re there? Ok… So I head out with Johann, and as we got there Bopop showed up, having successfully started his car. I had the pleasure of watching my little man and his Great-grandfather build a pair of binoculars together. That was fun!

From one generation to the next… these two cross the gap of four generations.


After I got back to the house, I fed the guys lunch and watched them muck about with concrete for a bit before taking off to pick more berries. They did their best to get the footings level and square.


Mixing small batches of 'crete


We poured footings for the corner posts in sono-tubes.


I went down in the pasture, intending to start at the northern most berry bushes and work my way back to the house, but I found the mother of all blueberry bushes and picked it clean until my bucket was full. A gallon of berries off one highbush berry bush. Whew! It got hot, but I wasn’t going to give up until I had it clean.

Wild blueberries are small but good.


Tons of little berries!


beautiful as a bunch of flowers!


Black Raspberries.

Composting Balloons

Kids love balloons!


One of the other things I do, and one of the most fun, is twisting balloons. I also facepaint, but the balloons led to a discovery.  At the end of a big day, like the workshop I will be teaching this coming week, I will have a bunch of balloon scraps. That, coupled with a comment a potential client made to me a few years back, led to an experiment. She told me she wasn’t interested in having balloons at her event because they weren’t “eco-friendly”. I didn’t argue with her (never argue with a client!) but it got me thinking and I ran it by my dad and did a little research. Why should balloons have a negative impact on the environment?


Hundreds of balloons ready for a workshop.


After a gig, I pick up and never leave balloon bits lying on the ground.


Balloons are made from latex, which is the sap of a tree, Hevea brasiliensis. I knew that, and didn’t see why the balloons shouldn’t be biodegradeable. So I set out to collect a couple of pounds of balloon scraps – not that difficult in the summer when it’s busy. I wanted a lot so I could actually see what happened to them in the compost pile, and a handful of scraps would just get lost in there. From my research I learned that balloons would decompose at the rate of an oak leaf – slowly, in other words. My research was also slowed by a dry summer that stalled out the compost pile for a couple of months.

Balloons in the compost pile.


By fall, as you can see above, the balloons were dry and brittle but hadn’t disappeared. Neither had a lot of other things! Lesson learned here was to water the pile in the summer every so often. Fast forward to spring, when we were moving the pile into beds for use. A few colorful fragments remained, which made both Dad and I laugh as we discovered them. The nozzles lasted longest, as they are the most dense part of the balloon. Otherwise, the latex had become dirt. Now, I don’t know what nutrients, if any, adding balloons to the compost pile gains us. But it is a good way to put the scraps back into the soil, thousands of miles from where they came out of the soil as a tree. This spring I was turning over the bed we had used the compost to build, two years after putting the balloons in the compost pile, and saw no trace of them, although there were lots of worms in that bed! I still add my scraps to the compost, although rarely in that quantity as I get a handful at each gig and I no longer twist balloons and paint faces for a living (as I was doing two years ago). They break down nicely in a thermophilic compost pile. Which makes me wonder – How would they do in the vermicompost? Hmmm… I think another experiment may be in order!

Pippa likes to help me load my balloon apron before a gig.

Excitement and Raspberries

It’s been an interesting day… very quiet at the moment, as the kids are off at a friend’s party. But about 10 am, Dad came in and announced that the guy with the excavator was coming this afternoon to clean the farm lane, the pad for the second greenhouse, and the pad for the shops. Oh, good grief!

Half my raspberry patch is going under the pad for the second greenhouse, and hadn’t been picked the last couple of days. So up I jump from trying to write (I was stuck, anyway) and holler for the kids to grab buckets and get out there with me. We picked over a gallon today out of the patch, and there is still more to pick later when I have more energy again. Sadly, some of them will be gone after tomorrow (they dropped off the excavator, but won’t start til tomorrow.) so I picked those first. I’m unhappy about losing such a productive patch, but the work needs to be done. It will change the landscape of the garden from giant weed-patch back into garden, first of all, and is the lynch-pin to getting the blacksmith shop built and operational.

Dad wading out to mark the greenhouse pad.

This mass of goldenrod, raspberries (mostly wild) and bindweed covers where a decade ago there was a thriving market garden. This time next year I hope to see it garden again.

Where in the weeds is Johann Gregory?

Even the wild raspberries are huge this year.

I’d taken this picture to show how big the berries are this year, but it also illustrates how I pick. I pull up the vine gently and pick from underneath. Gently is the key word there, as ripe raspberries are none too firmly attached, and if you yank they will fall off. Raspberries grow on second-year vines, and they lend to lie down as if tired by the time they bear ripe fruit. I don’t know if it’s the weight of the snow over the winter, the weight of the fruit, or both, but fresh canes grow straight up and bearing canes lie down unless supported. With the Pickin’ Patch we are keeping off by the bees, we will run wires up the row from 4×4 posts and that will keep the canes upright and pickable a whole lot easier.

Now THAT's raspberry iced tea!

We were out there in the hot sun, and I was holding my cup and picking as you saw… with the result that a whole lot of stuff fell in my cup. I don’t care about leaves, bugs I fish out, but after I’d dropped a couple berries in it gave me an idea! They were delicious, too. 🙂

Bug houses

There were a couple of bugs hiding in that flower. If you don’t like bugs, or snakes, or slugs and snails, don’t go berry picking. Find somebody like me who likes the little critters, and ask me to come pick your patch. I’ll get some berries and so will you without widlife encounters. I didn’t get a picture of the fat garter snake – she was too fast for me.

We had more snails than I realized in all that wet greenery.

Lots of berries… most of them unripe, and gone after tomorrow.

When the guys came to drop off the excavator, I was stuck by the resemblance of one of them to the guy in Grumpy Old Men. Neither of them are spring chickens, but they’ve been doing this longer than I’ve been alive, so I’ll keep my mouth shut and my ears open and maybe learn a thing or two.

It is as wide as the Farm Lane. Should do the job - we only hired the guy for ten hours.

After picking for close to four hours, we pulled about 6 quarts of berries out today. I will head out to pick the kids up shortly and when I get home may pick some more. I may not get any writing done, but I’ll have some fun. There are few things I enjoy more than being out in the berry patch.

Berry Season is Open!

As of the first of July we are picking raspberries and blueberries! We don’t have a lot of either yet, so I will be freezing small batches until we get enough for a batch of jam, but if you want some at the farmstand let me know and I’ll pick for you! Keep in mind our blueberries are the little wild ones, so rich in flavor and goodness.

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